Finding The Way Back review – Ben Affleck coaches a winning performance from a tired playbook

After being benched as Batman, Ben Affleck finds his way back to a game-winning performance in Gavin O’Connor’s basketball drama.

O’Connor is no stranger to the sports arena, having directing ice hockey true story Miracle and the excellent MMA family feud Warrior. Therefore it should be an easy lay up for him to tell a story about a former high school basketball player who swapped the game for the bottle but finds a shot at redemption when asked to coach his old team.

Ben Affleck blurs the lines between fact and fiction as he brings a raw honesty to the role of Jack Cunningham. Clearly drawing on his own past experiences, it is one of his best on-screen performances in a long time. After all, Affleck was da bomb in Phantoms, yo!

Courtesy of WB

His character has gone from throwing up rocks to hitting rock bottom. Jack is a “glass is completely empty” type of guy, dealing with an immense amount of grief. Instead of finding help, he finds solace at the bottom of a glass with levels of alcohol consumption that would make Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas blush. Anyone familiar with Affleck’s own struggles with addiction will see the bravery in his choice to take on this role.

This is an older, more mature Ben but there are still flashes of the brash, young movie star. Whether it is busting the chops of his young players or how his inability to curb his use of profanity while coaching is at odds with the Catholic school’s pastor.

His methods are bullish but they work. Turning the team’s fortunes around on the court allows him to switch shot glasses for game-winning shots. However their win-loss record improvement is not entirely unexpected because this movie is running off an old and tired playbook.

Anyone familiar with sporting dramas will recognise archetypes and see plot threads coming a mile away, whether it be the player whose family don’t approve of the sport, or the team that beat them first time out now stand in their way of making the playoffs.

Courtesy of WB

The success of any great sports movie ultimately relies on getting behind the team and watching the relationship between the coach and players grow. With the screenplay focusing so heavily on Cunningham’s battle with the bottle, it comes at the expense of the team. Several players have hints at character arcs but these fall to the wayside as they close in on the playoffs.

The beholdenness to these tropes results in the audience becoming aware of watching a solid but unspectacular movie. One that doesn’t quite match up to what has come before. Like watching Michael Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards after seeing him play for the Chicago Bulls. However to the film’s credit, it does call a welcome audible in the final act to take it down a different path.

Affleck is the film’s MVP but Finding My Way Back falls short of the stuff hoop dreams are made of.

Finding The Way Back is available on VOD now.