Finding the Way Back, originally called The Way Back but changed probably to stop confusion with several films called The Way Back or the excellent The Way Way Back (it certainly has no similarities with that film) is a reasonably entertaining film but I cannot say it is enjoyable or made to be. You are not going to get many laughs in a film that superficially deals with a losing basketball team but is mainly about addiction and unrelenting grief and guilt. Heavy stuff and overall handled reasonably well although crammed conveniently into the running time.
Affleck gives a good turn as the heavy-set drunk even more poignant due to the fact he apparently had just come out of rehab again from his own problems with alcohol so you have to say at some level this was a brave move by him, and he must have known exactly how his character felt and behaved, so who am I criticise the veracity of any of the alcohol-infused set pieces?
As a sports film there is nothing particularly bad about it but there is also nothing original. The team does seem to go from hopeless losers to unbeatable behemoth rather too quickly and we get all the usual characters in the line-up, well played by the young actors, but they are all present and correct and apart from Brandon the quiet one, they are just sketches in the story of ‘Jack’. Al Madrigal turns in a subtle display as the mathematics teacher assistant coach and along with the team Chaplin, Father Whelan it would have been good to have a look into the effect Jack’s life had on them and how they behaved but this was very much surface skim for these characters.
There is no doubt that Finding the Way Back definitely tugs on your emotional strings maybe a bit too spot-on for my liking, but it does it well and skillfully. You are never asked to like Jack and never asked to forgive him for his destructive addiction, but you are asked to understand why he is a mere shell of the man he used to be.
Although the sporting cliches, including the dramatic last game finale play out with nothing new added the film does try to subvert the usual sugary endings and you are left with nothing particularly tied up in neat bows at the end.
All in all, Finding the Way Back is a perfectly good piece of cinematic entertainment, it is nothing new, and breaks no emotional tear-jerker rules but also what it does do it does competently well and better than many in the same lane as it. Affleck is a fine ruined man, he looks the part, only smiles and laughs when he is drunk and likes to chug when he is having a shower. Having known many high-functioning drunks in my life I can say the look is accurate including what was known around where I lived as ‘Wayne Douglas Jeans’ wherein the crutch of the jeans hangs around down by the wearers knees no matter how the jeans are actually worn, somehow being tidy and scruffy at the same time. The supporting cast do good work but is given little to nothing to do with the two main female roles Janina Gavankar (ex-wife) and Michaela Watkins (sister) acquitting themselves well in roles that offer nothing groundbreaking or different.
The director, writer and main actor have tried to make a story that gives us an insight to the desperate world of self-destructive addiction, life-crushing tragedy and redemption and in the main have succeeded it is just that as a sports-themed film and redemption show it offers little that is new, just some grittiness and showcasing that Affleck on his day is a top actor.
Recommended if you like these types of films, with no laughs, and not if you had your fill of them. The choice, as they say, is yours.