Finding The Way Back, 2020.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor.
Starring Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Brandon Wilson, Janina Gavankar, Melvin Gregg and Jack Aylward.
An alcoholic former high school basketball prodigy is drafted in to coach the team he once led to championships.
Gavin O’Connor and Ben Affleck teamed up to baffling box office success with the dull 2016 thriller The Accountant, which somehow managed to earn in excess of $150m worldwide. The duo are back together now for Finding The Way Back – a far more complex and intriguing movie, which sees Affleck taking a brave dive into his own personal history for a tale driven by the destructive power of addiction.
Affleck has spoken at length in the press about his own struggles with alcohol, and that lends real power to this drama. He plays construction worker Jack Cunningham, who thinks nothing of drinking a beer in the shower and spends almost every night in his local bar, until he invariably has to be guided to his front door by a fellow regular. Out of the blue, he gets a call from his Catholic high school, where he was a basketball star in the 1990s. Their coach has left and they want Jack to fill the vacancy in order to turn around the team’s ailing fortunes.
O’Connor’s movie, penned by Brad Ingelsby, is ostensibly a fairly formulaic sporting tale, with the underdog narrative pretty squarely laid out from the beginning. However, the smart twist is in its focus on its unfocused lead. The team doesn’t have Jack’s full attention and so the movie isn’t able to stick close to the team’s fortunes, unless their success and failure is a motivating factor for the protagonist. Finding The Way Back is more character study than sports movie but, much like the Safdies’ excellent Uncut Gems, it uses the inherent drama of basketball as a drumbeat beneath the narrative.
Naturally, this all comes down to Affleck and it’s a terrific performance from the star. Gone Girl saw his public perception deployed for drama and, similarly, reality has a big impact on his work here. Affleck just works as a man who buries his trauma beneath his physical heft and masculine posturing, believing he’s hiding it better than he actually is. It’s a complex idea to portray, but one that Affleck embraces with deeply personal intensity. One sequence in which he undergoes an almost music video routine of taking a beer from the fridge, replacing it with another and then drinking it is a terrifically realised, rhythmic depiction of addiction.
The supporting cast, perhaps inevitably, are given slightly short shrift. Barring a couple of standout scenes, the trauma-inducing history between him and ex-wife Angela (Janina Gavankar) never gets the attention it deserves and the impressive bond between Jack and new basketball captain Brandon (Brandon Wilson) is also sadly under-cooked. Ingelsby’s script is strong on the internal material surrounding Affleck’s character, but a slight widening of the canvas might have helped, providing more perspective on how Jack’s addiction affects those around him.
But Finding The Way Back is a strong, intelligent take on addiction that is made stronger by Affleck’s evident commitment to the role and to the issues surrounding its central conceit. With notes of tragedy, notes of hope and plenty of uplifting sporting grit at its heart, this is about as good as a dour, mostly humourless drama about the dangers of booze can get.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.