Gavin O’Connor’s Finding The Way Back (also known as The Way Back) might be a traditional sporting drama which uses the age-old trope of a coach taking a losing team to glory, but it manages to do it in a way that feels heartfelt and compelling. Much of this has to do with the casting of Ben Affleck, who faces his real-life demons head-on as a man struggling with alcoholism and looking for (and struggling to find) one last shot at redemption. It’s a career best turn from Affleck and the actor takes the material delivers an honest and bold performance.
Affleck is Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star who reluctantly takes on a coaching job at his old school. Separated from his wife and lost in boozy nights drinking alone, Cunningham’s role as coach turns out to be his final shot at Finding The Way Back.
Following on from their successful 2016 collaboration with the action-thriller The Accountant (read the review), O’Connor and Affleck tackle a story with less gunfire and much more nuance. Finding The Way Back is a compelling film which works because Affleck leaves himself open in a way that few Hollywood stars dare, especially when starring in a film which doesn’t feel like awards bait. This is an old-fashioned and unfussy piece of cinema, which plays like it could have been made twenty or thirty years ago. Sometimes simple is best
You’ll know the arc of the story going in but Finding The Way Back is about the journey, not the destination. As a filmmaker, Gavin O’Connor has delivered punchy sports movies before in the shape of the Kurt Russell hockey drama Miracle and the Tom Hardy/Joel Edgerton mixed-martial arts film Warrior. However, the director has also taken genre movies and given them a fresh spin – see the 2008 cop drama Pride and Glory and the 2015 western Jane Got A Gun for details. This time around the focus isn’t really on the sport (basketball), but it’s about how it helps Affleck’s character have something to latch onto as he attempts to get his life back on track.
A film about searching for hope after failure, Finding The Way Back is a film which is honest in its goals and aspirations. It might not win any awards for originality, but Ben Affleck has a legitimate shot at taking home some gold for his fearless performance.
The blu-ray release of Finding The Way Back comes with two short featurettes which clock in a just over 5 minutes apiece. The Way Back: This Sporting Life takes a look at sports in movies. Every Loss Is Another Fight: The Road to Redemption focuses on Ben Affleck’s character and the actor talks a bit about his own experiences in the piece.