It has been a strange old career for Ben Affleck, hasn’t it? Beginning with his friendship and collaborations with Kevin Smith on Mallrats and Chasing Amy, he was thrust into the limelight further in 1998 when he and Matt Damon won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting. His star ascended quickly after Armageddon and Pearl Harbor but crashed spectacularly after the ill-judged Gigli in 2003, and it has cast a shadow over him ever since.
Rebirth came thanks to superheroes – playing George Reeves (who played Superman) in Hollywoodland before his bruising, wearing take on The Dark Knight surprised almost everyone but personal issues and the fallout from the misjudged Justice League – itself seeking redemption in 2021 – haven’t helped matters in recent years.
His aptly named new drama Finding The Way Back (The Way Back in the US) was seen as his newest rebirth given the subject matter and his relationship with director Gavin O’Connor (the two worked on 2016’s The Accountant) and it’s exciting to report that this is indeed a true return on the severely underrated actor who gives one of the best – if not the best – performances of his career, but it’s in a film that sadly isn’t
Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a construction worker who has been dealing with his alcoholism for years since his separation from his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar) and his friends and family have become more and more concerned for his well being and his detachment from almost everyone. In his teenage years, he was Bishop Hayes Catholic School’s shining light as a basketball player, helping the team to numerous trophies and championships during his tenure and with the school recently losing their coach, asking Jack if he would return to his alma mater to help them in their quest to revive past glories and perhaps redeem himself in the process.
If all of that seems very cliched and repetitive then you’d be right as although Finding The Way Back begins on solid ground and looks to take its tale in an interesting direction, its reversion to type stops it dead in its tracks despite the valiant efforts from Affleck. The first hour plays as a hard-hitting, uncomfortable yet human story of a man at the end of his rope trying to bury his demons forever without any clue how to do so but once the basketball hits, its shift in focus to courtside undoes all its best intentions.
O’Connor, who made the brilliant Warrior, demonstrates his unique knack for capturing energetic, rhythmic sporting events but the film is at its best in its quieter moments and with Brad Ingelsby’s script buckling under pressure, he rarely gets much chance to shine outside of this. Dialogues are weak, character developments are unrefined and as it plods along to its inevitable conclusion, you may have lost interest. For Affleck, this is certainly a win though and his subdued yet powerful central turn is spectacular and just about carries the film though, but its sloppy narrative is hard to ignore.