(US/Canada - 2020)
Directed by Gavin O'Connor. Written by Brad Inglesby. Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, Glynn Turman, Brandon Wilson, Jeremy Radin, Will Ropp, Charles Lott Jr., Melvin Gregg, Fernando Luis Vega, Ben Irving, Da'Vinchi, T.K. Carter, John Aylward, Todd Stashwick, Dan Lauria, Jeremy Ratchford, Matthew Glave, Nancy Linehan Charles. (R, 108 mins)
2004's exemplary MIRACLE demonstrated that director Gavin O'Connor--then best known for the 1999 indie TUMBLEWEEDS--had a knack for the inspirational sports drama, while 2011's WARRIOR remains one of the all-time great gut-wrenching man-weepies. He's had a generally well-regarded career as a journeyman with films like 2008's cop drama PRIDE AND GLORY and 2016's autistic assassin thriller THE ACCOUNTANT, with 2016's long-shelved JANE GOT A GUN being his only real misstep thus far, though in his defense, he stepped in at the last minute when Lynne Ramsey quit during pre-production a few major cast members followed suit, leaving O'Connor with an already out-of-control grease fire. O'Connor combines the feel-good underdog spirit of MIRACLE with the emotionally overwhelming haunted-by-the-past drama of WARRIOR in THE WAY BACK, which reunites him with ACCOUNTANT star Ben Affleck. The real story here isn't how it fits into the O'Connor oeuvre, but rather, the uncompromising, soul-baring performance of Affleck, who brings to the table much of his own history as a recovering high-functioning alcoholic who's publicly fallen off the wagon more than once.
meme-able glee in one's professional stumbles, personal meltdowns, and questionable choice in back tattoos. Yes, THE WAY BACK is a bit too contrived in its writing and it often comes close to being BEN AFFLECK IS SOBER: THE MOVIE, but it has a level of sincerity and authenticity that almost seems therapeutic for him at this point in time. Looking convincingly beaten down by life, Affleck is Jack Cunningham, a construction worker who's isolated himself from friends and family. He's separated from his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar), and every day is the same: he has a beer in the shower, pours some gin in a travel mug on the way to work, stealthily keeps it filled over the course of the day, fills it with a beer after work to hold him over until he gets to the bar, where he usually shuts it down with endless beers and shots, knowing that his elderly friend and bar regular Doc (Glynn Turman) will make sure he gets home. On the occasional nights he stays in, he sits at his kitchen table and works his way through a case of beer, passes out, and does it all again the next day.
T.K. Carter sighting!), who questions why Jack is even coaching when he pissed away a full ride and quit playing right after high school. Jack had his reasons for abandoning basketball, and he his reasons for medicating himself just to get through the day, which become clear over the course of the film. The "what" was pretty much spoiled by the trailers, but the "how" is a tragedy that's unbearably sad (like WARRIOR, THE WAY BACK doesn't shy away from picking at the scabs of traumatic family memories) and Jack is still unable to process it and move on. Coaching gives Jack a new focus and he even drastically cuts back on the drinking, until he's blindsided by a reminder from the past that puts him back on an even more destructive downward spiral than before.
performance in that just wrecks me), nor is it quite as inspiring as MIRACLE, but it's a solid sports man-weepie and dad movie anchored by Affleck's best work since GONE GIRL.