James Clay // Film Critic
THE WAY BACK
Sports movies are a dime a dozen. Take a group of ragtag non-athletes and put them against insurmountable odds. There can be only one outcome, and it usually goes in the protagonists’ favor.
With Gavin O’ Connor’s THE WAY BACK, Ben Affleck, with his longtime producing partner Jennifer Todd, made a film that faces the actor’s demons with alcoholism. As much as a cliché as this film appears to be, it rings true for most people living with uncertainty. Connor has made a few male weepies in his days as a filmmaker, and this one is his most successful since 2011’s WARRIOR. THE WAY BACK is a familiar template that somehow still feels special.
Jack Cunningham (Affleck) was a high school stud at his Catholic prep school, where he led his basketball team to glory, and now his jersey is hung from the rafters. In other words, he’s reached legendary status. After bailing on a scholarship to Kansas, 20 or so years have passed, and his life is on the skids after befalling a tragedy that effectively ended his marriage to Angela (Janina Gavankar). Thousands of beers, hangovers, F-bombs, and wasted chances later, Cunningham winds up back at his school with an offer to coach the ailing team that he once led to victory. Through a process of relying on each other and developing a relationship with his players that extends off the court, Cunningham searches for the titular “way back.”
O’ Connor’s film isn’t as inspiring as it is a nerve-racking watch with his unique ability to put emotional kernels that resonate with each and every harrowing choice Affleck is making. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to say f**k twenty times at a religious function, and perhaps stumbling into a random house to eliminate your bladder isn’t the best life choice. But O’Connor and Affleck find that universality to Cunningham’s character trying to overcome his toxic abilities. With a supporting cast including a very good Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, and Brandon Wilson, THE WAY BACK offers a slice of life that you can take with you down any path in life.
The Sporting Life: Director Gavin O’ Connor, producer Jennifer Todd and star Ben Affleck discuss the alchemy of what makes a good sports drama. These films have to be about something else other than sports. THE WAY BACK is about relying on others, guiding individuals, and learning to trust even in the most tragic circumstances.
Every Loss Is Another Fight: The Road to Redemption: Props to Ben Affleck casually discussing his bout with alcoholism in a special feature. This is a look into the path he took when accepting this role, and it’s certainly admirable.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
Here’s an excerpt from the full theatrical review.
“The genius in this Moss-Whannell collaboration is Cecilia always straddles the line, never to veer too far into helplessness. She did escape a compound from an evil mastermind, after all. Whannell’s dynamic direction uses the space to create a conversation with the audience, hinting at what may be looking back at you while the imagination is doing all the heavy lifting. After a bit of acting, Whannell has developed into a filmmaker. You may remember him as the other guy in the bathroom in the first SAW movie – a film in which he also wrote. Whannell finally had a breakout after 2018’s small-budgeted sci-fi actioner UPGRADE became a sleeper hit and one of the most purely entertaining films of that calendar year.
As successful as THE INVISIBLE MAN is at being a mishmash of genre elements, with a glitchy score by Benjamin Wallfisch pulsing throughout, there are a few slight elements that break the illusion a bit tonally. Namely, a bonkers police shootout that goes a little over the top. Other than that, this chilly rendition has one helluva poker face.
With the INVISIBLE MAN, there is plenty to analyze with its ripe commentary on the #MeToo age. But in all honesty, stories like this have been long present in filmmaking, especially horror. It’s just that audiences and creators are more finely tuned with the transgressions of abusive relationships.”
Another Blumhouse release loaded with too many special features. This is a great problem to have.
Feature Commentary: If you follow this column at all, you know I’m a sucker for director commentaries, and while Blumhouse has skimped in the past (looking at you HALLOWEEN 2018) the production house more than made up for it here. Leigh Whannell delivers one of the best in recent memory. With his signature Aussie charm Whannell gives little inside baseball tricks to his filmmaking style and tips for making a spooky feature.
Moss Manifested: Every director loves Elizabeth Moss, here’s why.
Director’s Journey: From script to screen, Leigh Whannel’s ingenuity is what made this film incredibly successful. Here’s his story.
Deleted Scenes: These things are typically cut for a reason, but with THE INVISIBLE MAN, there was a lot of room to play with expectations. These scenes offer an alternative look at the film.
The Way Back and The Invisisble Man are now available on Blu Ray, 4K Blu Ray, or Video On Demand for rent or purchase.