Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Way Back

The Way Back
Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Released March 6, 2020

People face a variety of setbacks throughout their lives, and having a support system to rely on during hard times can make all the difference. Unfortunately, not everyone has that, whether through a series of circumstances beyond their control or because of a willful desire not to accept help from others. Returning to a place of hope and happiness can seem impossibly distant, and getting there may require an intervention from someone else who notices suffering or outside influences that serve as a productive distraction and motivator.

Former high school basketball star Jack (Ben Affleck) consumes a worrisome amount of beer each day, struggling to find meaning in his construction job. When he is offered the chance to coach the lackluster basketball team at his old school, he reluctantly accepts. He finds his passion but also has immense difficulty tempering the anger he feels that manifests itself in foul language and other behavior deemed unacceptable by the school. His fractured relationship with his ex-wife (Janina Gavankar) and demons from his past threaten to derail a future that might actually allow him to channel his energy into something that will be good for the next generation.

This is, in many ways, a typical sports movie that also deals extensively with alcoholism and depression. As Jack debates whether to take the job, he cycles through a number of beer cans that he systematically moves from the refrigerator to the freezer, clearly rehearsing a process he has repeated many times. He snaps at his sister (Michaela Watkins) when she dares to question how often he is seen at the bar, and outright denies any lingering issues when pressed by his new assistant coach (Al Madrigal), who immediately defers to his expertise as soon as he first sets foot on the court. Everyone around Jack seems to be rooting for his success, but he is intent on punishing himself for past failures even if no one else seeks to put blame on him.

Affleck has received considerable praise for his performance, which does find him investing deeply in a character in a way vaguely reminiscent of his standout turn in 2006’s “Hollywoodland.” His star power might be enough to catapult him into the Oscar race, but there’s nothing especially extraordinary about this standard and relatively expected film. It’s still a worthwhile story, even if it travels a road many films have explored before, with some sports excitement thrown in to make Jack a fractured hero worth supporting even if his choices are rarely the best.

B

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