Finding The Way Back. Review

In 2011 Director Gavin O’Connor made the MMA drama Warrior starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte. Nolte received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor and it was one of the best films of that year. It was also the kind of project showcasing the fact O’Connor was a very capable filmmaker and potentially had several great films ahead of him. That’s not the way things have panned out. He followed that success up with Ben Affleck assassin thriller The Accountant. This was a film as memorable as its title suggests. Its only memorable element was one of the worst examples of light strobing effects ever used on film (it’s even a plot point within the narrative.)Epileptic viewers should avoid at all costs. O’Connor has teamed with Affleck again for his latest feature. Affleck plays alcoholic former basketball star Jack Cunningham who is asked to go back and adopt a coaching position for the high school team with which he saw a huge amount of success. Is O’Connor able to recapture the success of Warrior?
Not really but this certainly isn’t for lack of trying. This is very much a “misery porn” film with a sports backdrop. In the rare cases where this style narrative works effectively (Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake Kenneth Lonagens Manchester By The Sea come to mind) the direction, performances and screenplay come together and enable the central narrative of the narrative to be sold effectively. Finding The Way Back has one of those three elements covered. Affleck’s central performance is excellent and enables viewers to buy into the central characters very downbeat attitude and reliance on alcohol to get from one day to the next. The problem is that the film sticks in this mould from five minutes in until the credits roll. The direction and screenplay don’t offer anything not seen in these kinds of redemption narratives. This is unless viewers count O’Connor’s aesthetic choice to play everything as downbeat as humanly possible (even when the central team Affleck is coaching starts to see some success.)
That’s one interesting thematic idea showcasing Afflecks very direct and foul-mouthed coaching style contradicts with the values of the Christian School he’s employed at but this isn’t explored beyond the level one might see in the latest Pureflix release. The basketball side of the narrative is incredibly straight forward. Steve James already made the definitive American high school basketball film 25 years ago with his monolithic documentary Hoop Dreams (now available in its 25th anniversary UK Blu Ray restoration.)Beyond Affleck’s excellent central performance the film offers nothing knew within the pantheon of sports and basketball-related media. It’s so obsessed with seeling the earnestness within its narrative that it forgets to emotionally engage the audience.
Finding The Way back may be worth it for some viewers due to Ben Affleck’s excellent work in the lead role. That said it offers nothing new in the various styles it tries to blend. It also fails to sell the viewer on why audiences should buy into the very earnest award friendly approach taken by the filmmakers. It’s far from awful but not the kind of film any viewer should be seeking out unless they love sports films or Ben Affleck.

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