Finding the Way Back review: A moving showcase for Ben Affleck
James R | On 11, Jul 2020
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Brandon Wilson, Janina Gavankar
Changing the title of Gavin O’Connor’s drama from The Way Back to Finding the Way Back feels like an apt decision for its UK release. The film stars Ben Affleck, an actor and director who has not so secretly been in a process of rehabilitation for alcoholism. Marking his first project since stepping away from DC’s Batman, he plays a character who is also in the process of attempting to exit the haze of an alcohol addiction.
Affleck plays Jack, a former basketball prodigy who now works as a construction worker by day and props up the local bar at night. Separated from his wife (Janina Gavankar), he’s not in a good place, so when he gets the offer to become his old high school’s basketball team, he immediately prepares to turn it down. And yet he finds himself taking the role anyway, kicking into gear the underdog sports machine that drives him, one ball at a time, towards the possibility of redemption.
The film functions as a reunion for helmer O’Connor and leading man Affleck, who worked on The Accountant. That working relationship, and familiarity with each other’s strengths, sees O’Connor draw some strong plays from Affleck, from his rehearsing his intended job refusal to him getting angry on the sidelines of every game. Affleck, crucially, doesn’t overdo it, and his interactions with the Catholic school’s Father Devine (John Aylward), which could tip into mawkish sentiment, are entertaining as well as understated.
The basketball action, too, plays out convincingly, even if Brad Ingelsby’s familiar script doesn’t do anywhere near enough to elevate the team members above their token parts. It’s hard to believe that they would be so inspired by Jack’s coaching, which primarily revolves around shouting and swearing at them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t root for them; such is the good will that a charismatic leading actor can generate in an audience, even if they’re still finding their way back.