The Way Back (2020)

The Way Back (2020)

The Way Back posterDirected by: Gavin O’Connor. Starring: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar. Runtime: 1h 48 min. Released: March 6, 2020.

Gavin O’Connor’s The Way Back is the latest addition to an unofficial cinematic universe – films with the key words Way Back in the title, starting with Emilio Estevez’ The Way, then a few months later with Peter Weir’s adventure drama The Way Back, and then in 2013 with my personal favourite The Way, Way Back.

Obviously these films have nothing to do with each other, but four is too many films with a generic name like this. The generic title is fair for O’Connor’s sports drama because it’s familiar, but it is also very good.

Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) was a high school basketball legend on his way to earning a scholarship before he walked away from the game. Years later, he’s given a shot at redemption coaching the team at his alma mater, a Catholic high school called Bishop Hayes.

Jack isn’t exactly the poster boy for the Catholic image. He’s an alcoholic skilled at hiding his boozing. We see him sneak liquor into his thermos at his construction job, and then plow through a fridge full of beer cans while deciding to take this coaching job. The scenes when Jack needs to be helped home because he can barely stand are hard to watch.

Affleck brings his A-game as the character and it’s the best male performance I’ve seen so far this year. It’s a quiet, tortured performance as he battles his inner demons. When we learn more about these demons, it is crushing, and I wouldn’t dare spoil that. I’ll just say this is one of Affleck’s finest performances and he is heartbreaking and powerful.

The Way Back article
Al Madrigal and Ben Affleck in The Way Back. (IMDb)

He’s great in the sports scenes, too. When Jack puts down the bottle and takes an interest in these kids, The Way Back inspires, and it inspires on and off the court. There are a couple of players that we learn about. Jack’s dynamic with Brandon Durrett (Brandon Wilson), a quiet player with a deep understanding of the game, is the most interesting. Brandon’s father doesn’t approve of the game as a career path and it’s fascinating watching Jack turn him into a leader.

Another main player is Marcus Wiggins (Melvin Gregg). He has attitude problems and thinks he’s the star of the team, and I like how his character is handled. Another player, Kenny Dawes (Will Ropp), is one-note as a ladies man, but he gets some good laughs. We learn the names of the other players – like Chubbs (Charles Lott Jr.), Bobby Freeze (Ben Irving) and Sam Garcia (Fernando Luis Vega), but the rest feel like they’re there to fill out a roster.

The film’s also not so much about the kids, it’s about Jack and how they change him. I like how Jack changes the team, too, and his coaching strategy brings a lot of comedy since it’s a Catholic school and he swears a lot, much to the chagrin of the team’s chaplain, Father Mark Whelan (Jeremy Radin). The dynamic with assistant coach Dan (Al Madrigal) is also strong in the film. Jack brings a winning mindset to the team and it charms in its sports moments. The dramatic scenes are also beautiful, and I like the way director Gavin O’Connor shoots drama.

The film is about Jack’s trauma and basketball. Basketball gives Jack a purpose and it’s used as healing, but the film never shows that it could cure everything for him. O’Connor and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby write a strong film here. There’s a good balance to The Way Back. There’s importance in its sports scenes, but an equal importance to being a character study on alcoholism and trauma. That makes Jack’s way back even more compelling.

Score: 75/100

(August 21) Happy birthday Hayden Panettiere (23), Peter Weir (68) and Carrie-Anne Moss (45)

                                           Hayden Panettiere

The sexy New York native just turned 23 today. Hayden has a pretty impressive résumé. She was on the soap opera One Life to Live at the age of four and a half; and later appeared for four years starting at the age of seven on the soap opera The Guiding Light. She was the voice of Dot in A Bug’s Life, and the voice of Kate in the poorly acclaimed animated film Alpha and Omega. She’s appeared beside great screen presences like Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, and Tim Allen in Joe Somebody. She is also well known for being in Racing Stripes, and being the star on the TV show Heroes as the invincible Claire Bennet. And just last year, horror fans may know her for her role as Kirby Reed in Scream 4 (also called Scre4m, but I don’t like spelling it that way). She is pretty talented and also very attractive, and I just love watching her act.

Peter Weir

 This Australian director and sometimes writer just turned 68 today. He’s well known for taking great comedy actors and turning them into awesome dramatic actors, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. His latest project in 2010 was the star-studded (Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan) adventure drama The Way Back, which he wrote the screenplay for and directed. He has been nominated for six Oscars: one for Best Writing for Green Card; one for Best Picture for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; and four for Best Director for the films Master and CommanderThe Truman ShowDead Poets Society, and Witness. Pretty impressive career.

Carrie-Anne Moss

This Canadian (born in Vancouver, B.C.) turned 45 today. She is best known for her role as Trinity in The Matrix trilogy, and also well-known for her roles in MementoChocolat alongside Johnny Depp, and in Disturbia.

   Happy birthday guys.