Finding The Way Back was the ‘patient zero’ of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on cinema. It played in the US for two weeks, but its theatrical run was cut short and, in a huge turnaround from Warner Bros., it was released onto premium streaming. Birds of Prey and The Invisible Man, which had already been out for a while, followed suit shortly after. The film never had a UK theatrical release at all, just went straight to VOD in July—now it’s October, and the Blu-Ray is finally out.
Ben Affleck stars as Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic who is working construction, and who has been separated from his wife for over a year. His friends and family are worried about him due to his drinking, but one day he gets a call from his old Catholic high school, Bishop Hayes, about possibly coaching the current high school basketball team. Back in his youth, Cunningham had been their star player but he never quite went made it into the big leagues. The current team is losing left, right and centre, and maybe Cunningham is just what they need—but will his demons ruin everything for him and his team?
Gavin O’Connor, a fairly reliable director of nuts and bolts grown-up dramas and action flicks, is at the helm, but it’s one of his more pedestrian offerings: the heights of 2011’s Warrior are far gone. The story is completely predictable, and it even has a slight white savior narrative (the majority of the team is Black).
However, the film is anchored and elevated by Ben Affleck’s performance, as it’s a character study of Jack. Affleck himself is a recovering alcoholic, and literally walked out of rehab for alcoholism and onto the set of Finding The Way Back, so it has a sense of authenticity that the film otherwise wouldn’t have. You get the sense that Affleck is all too familiar with the self-disgust that Jack is clearly dealing with, and the routine of the alcoholic. The montage of him trying to figure out how to turn down Father Devine whilst moving beers from the fridge to the freezer to get them cold enough to drink emphasizes the ritual perfectly, and shows the continuing loop till he has ran out of beer.
Overall, it’s certainly better than the unwatchable and offensive hitman-with-Aspergers thriller The Accountant, which was Affleck and O’Connor’s last collaboration. Affleck was being tipped for a Oscar nomination in the film’s initial reviews, but I highly doubt he will even be nominated by the time the Oscars happen in April 2021. It’s a great performance that has a rare sense of familiarity from an actor’s own lived experience, so it’s a shame the film is formulaic. It’s still a perfectly good watch.
The only extras on the disc are two five-minute featurettes with interviews of cast and crew and making-of footage, in which Affleck really looks the worse for wear.