I will state upfront, if you go in expecting this to just be Bad News Bears or Coach Carter or something to that effect, you would be mistaken. There is a lot more going on here than just being a movie about a down on his luck coach coaching a team of misfits to a championship. There are elements of that kind of story here, but it’s more than that. There is something so raw and special about this movie. That something is almost entirely Ben Affleck. I will also say upfront, the title sucks and the poster sucks as well. But how is the movie?
Gavin O’Conner is a surprisingly under the radar director working in Hollywood. Most of his movies are quality films that appeal to general audiences. However, for whatever reason, he isn’t widely talked about. It’s a shame if I am being honest. Like all of his films, this is really well directed. He directs it in a way that always keeps things real. He has a remarkable gift on utilizing a good zoom in mid-conversation. He shoots the basketball games in ways that keep things cinematic. It never feels super staged or overly dramatic. It just feels like you are watching a high school basketball game. Gavin O’Conner understands that for a film like this to work, it has to stay grounded, stay real, and most importantly stay authentic.
Now while this movie has the same DNA as something like Coach Carter, instead of going through the motions it does a couple clever things with the type of story it is. It also strives to be about more than just basketball and redemption. I am overly pleased that the “Big Game” in the movie is not a championship game, but a playoff qualifier. I also appreciate that the “Big Game” is not the climax of the movie, but used to be an upswing for the characters before the tragic fall that comes with the next couple of events. It is a movie that is one hundred percent about Ben Affleck’s character and his arc. There are a couple cliched and hackneyed moments, but not to the extent I thought it would. It also shows a great amount of patience. It takes its time revealing all the details about why Affleck is the way he is and each new piece revealed about his psyche is more deviating than the last.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The entire cast does a good job. I’ll be upfront about that here, for I am not gonna be talking about them much. The reason you should buy a ticket and go see this movie is because of Ben Affleck. I have always loved Ben Affleck and have never understood the internet giving him shit the bulk of his career. This is undoubtedly his best performance and I am saying that knowing full well I live in a world where Gone Girl exists. This movie would fall on its damn face if his performance was even slightly off. However, it is evidently clear that Affleck has made this movie at the point of his life when he needed it most. It is clear that the depiction of alcoholism is very real and very raw because it is clear Affleck has suffered from it and he is bringing his former demons out in his performance. It almost feels like he is going through his own therapy doing this performance. So, if nothing else, I am glad this movie exists if it has helped him even slightly. He is fantastic here. It’s a character and performance that gains the empathy of the audience from the first moments on screen. Really do go see this movie for him.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score is exactly what one would expect it to be. A lot of piano chords being clanged out to maximum emotional effect. It is kinda silly. I can’t lie. That being said, it was very pretty piano chords being clanged. It was a pretty score.
It looks like the bulk of Gavin O’Conner’s other filmography. Really grainy, good camera work, and very personal. The look of the film also reminded me of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. If you know anything about me and my sensibilities you know there is no higher compliment I can bestow.
"We Can’t Change The Past, Jack."
Genre: Drama. Sport.
The Way Back is a good movie. That much is certain to me. However, I am a tad surprised that this wasn’t just standard and forgettable fair for the cinema. It is a masterclass in performance and how a performance can engage and consume the audience. Ben Affleck is a man who clearly has gone through serious issues in his life, but it is nice to see him try to turn it to a positive the best he can. This performance is special and truly elevates the movie. Much like The Invisible Man, this movie is strong in theme and less so in plot. The plot may come off as formulaic at points. However, what the film has to say about alcoholism is far more potent than I expected. There are several points in the film that get rough and uncomfortable. It is a movie that isn’t shy about showing a flawed human being being a flawed human being without all the bells and whistles. It is so well made and so well performed that one may not have a hard time finding their way back to see it.