Sunday, April 5, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 5
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Santa Maria Sun / Film

This weeks review
1917
AD ASTRA
BINGABLE: ABANDONED (2016)
BINGABLE: DON’T F**K WITH CATS: HUNTING AN INTERNET KILLER (2019)
BINGEABLE: Barry
BINGEABLE: CASA DE LAS FLORES
BINGEABLE: FLEABAG
BINGEABLE: GRACE AND FRANKIE
BINGEABLE: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTARIES
BINGEABLE: OUTLANDER (2014-present)
BINGEABLE: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995)
BINGEABLE: RUSSIAN DOLL
BINGEABLE: STRANGER THINGS 3
BINGEABLE: THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY
BINGEABLE: THE SINNER (SEASON 2)
BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)
BLAST FROM THE PAST: COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
BLAST FROM THE PAST: FISH TANK (2009)
BLAST FROM THE PAST: HOUSE
BLAST FROM THE PAST: OLDBOY
BLAST FROM THE PAST: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
BLAST FROM THE PAST: ROBOCOP
BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE MATRIX
BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE PRESTIGE (2006)
BLAST FROM THE PAST: WILD AT HEART
BLAST FROM THE PAST: YOU’VE GOT MAIL
BLOODSHOT
DOCTOR SLEEP
EMMA
FORD V FERRARI
GUILTY PLEASURE: THE HANGOVER
GUILTY PLEASURES: CHEER (2020)
GUILTY PLEASURES: GIRL MEETS WORLD (2014-2017)
HATEWATCH: 92ND ACADEMY AWARDS (2020)
HATEWATCH: NAILED IT!
HATEWATCH: THE WITCHER (2019)
HEARST CASTLE: BUILDING THE DREAM
I STILL BELIEVE
JOJO RABBIT
JOKER
KNIVES OUT
LITTLE WOMEN
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD
ONWARD
THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM
THE CALL OF THE WILD
THE GENTLEMEN
THE HUNT
THE INVISIBLE MAN
THE LIGHTHOUSE
THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
THE WAY BACK
TV REVIEW:
TV REVIEW: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE
TV REVIEW: SELF MADE: INSPIRED BY THE LIFE OF MADAM C.J. WALKER
TV REVIEW: TABOO
TV REVIEW: WESTWORLD (Season 3 debut)
UNCUT GEMS
UNDERRATED: BATMAN BEGINS
UNDERRATED: DOUBLE DRAGON (1994)
UNDERRATED: INSOMNIA
UNDERRATED: SHUTTER ISLAND
UNDERRATED: THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL
UNDERRATED: THE FALLING
YESTERDAY
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

The Way Back paints a complicated picture of alcohol addiction and personal loss

THE WAY BACK

PHOTO BY , COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

THE WAY BACK


Where is it playing?: Parks Plaza

What's it rated?: R

What's it worth?: $Full price (Glen Starkey)

What's it worth?: $Matinee (Anna Starkey)

User Rating: 0.00 (0 Votes)

Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, The Accountant) directs this sports drama written with Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace, Run All Night) about an alcoholic former high school basketball star (Ben Affleck) who’s offered a coaching job at his alma mater. Can he confront his old demons, redeem himself, and lead his squad to victory? (108 min.)

Glen: It’s always tough watching someone self-destruct on film, and the early scenes of Jack Cunningham (Affleck) drinking his way through his days as a bridge construction worker and his nights erasing himself in his local dive bar are pretty depressing. We don’t even find out until half way through the film what’s driven him to such despair, and I won’t ruin it for you, but he’s got a pretty good reason to want to numb himself. When he’s asked by Father Edward Devine (John Aylward) to take over coaching his old Catholic high school basketball team, Jack is trying to make a team out of a group of misfit players on a failing squad. If you’re thinking, “I’ve seen this film before,” you absolutely have. It’s a tried-and-true plot and a familiar character arc, but with O’Connor at the helm and a very committed performance by Affleck, the film overcomes its predictability and delivers an engaging cinematic experience. O’Connor has a facility with sports movies having directed Miracle (2004), about the 1980 U.S. Hockey team’s victory over the unbeatable Soviets, and Warrior (2011), the family drama centered on two brothers facing each other in a mixed martial arts contest. He knows how to film compelling sports sequences as well as capture potent emotional moments. The Way Back delivers.

Anna: Affleck has had his own personal problems with alcohol, so Jack’s darkness and struggles are ones the actor has shared to at least some degree. Jack’s life is repetitive and sad; he hides booze in his coffee cup to get through the workday and pounds beers at night just to pass out. He isn’t exactly a loner, but very much alone. He’s got friends at the bar who shuffle him home every night, a sister who cares but is incredibly frustrated, and an ex-wife who still has love for him despite their separation. When Father Devine offers the coach position to Jack, he proceeds to get drunk and practice all the ways he can say no, but perhaps a bit of divine intervention or residual Catholic guilt makes Jack take on the job in the end. His team is sad, too. In fact, the school hasn’t made it to the playoffs since Jack was a star on the team. The boys are a bit directionless, unfocused, and embarrassed by their terrible record. It sucks to lose all of the time! Assistant Coach Dan (Al Madrigal) is Jack’s right-hand man, but soon he senses something is amiss with Jack, and even though the team is now winning because of him, Dan can’t look away from the fact that the foulmouthed coach often smells like a distillery. When we learn the complicated truths of why Jack blacks the world out night after night, the character turns from just broken to heartbreakingly devastated at what life has handed him. It’s a sad film as well as triumphant, and instead of presenting some sort of a false tale of how basketball saved his life, we get a much more complicated, much more real look at what it truly takes to recover.

Glen: The film’s less than happy ending does add realism to the tale, which is propelled along by the women in Jack’s life. Their sympathy for him is palpable, as is their helplessness at inspiring him to be better. His sister, Beth (Michaela Watkins), is fed up with his drinking but understands it. She does all she can to keep him involved with her kids’ lives. Likewise, his ex-wife Angela (Janina Gavankar) tries to keep in touch with him, but she’s moving on with her life—something Jack’s incapable of. Part of his path to redemption is working with his players, in particular Brandon Durrett (Brandon Wilson), whose mother has died and whose father is too busy with his two younger sons to pay much attention to Brandon’s blooming basketball career, which is garnering interest from college scouts. Jack turns out to be an amazing coach who’s able to capitalize on his team’s weaknesses. They’re small but they have hustle, and they’re willing to work. As they begin winning, it’s impossible not to be excited about their underdog charge. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a story if Jack simply redeemed himself and took his team to the championship. More setbacks are in store, but when the credits come to a close, you’ll know this story of personal loss, alcoholic despair, and an imperfect path to redemption hit all the right notes. It’s moving without being melodramatic or mawkish, and Affleck digs deep to make Jack a character worth rooting for.

Anna: Why Jack walked away from the game after high school also becomes more clear as he digs in deep with Brandon and we learn Jack’s own complicated relationship with his father. Angela tries to be supportive, but like you said—she’s moving on, and Jack doesn’t seem to have any interest in helping himself. Beyond that, he can be downright mean, and his wounds are never more at the surface than in those moments. Coaching has managed to give him some purpose, but the devil inside of him still weighs on him every day and ends up casting a dark shadow over the sparse happy moments he has. While this is a sports movie, its focus is a lot more personal than that. Of course we want the boys to win and for Jack to turn his life and team around, but life is messier than all of that, and this film doesn’t deny it. It isn’t all low lows; there’s some humor and tenderness as well. It’s clear Jack cares about the kids on the team more than he does about the game or even himself. Affleck gives quite a performance here, and this redemption story is worth a watch. 

Sun Screen is written by New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.








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