Job by Alexis Lebrun November 10, 2021
After a few difficult years marked in particular by his misadventures in the skin of Batman, Ben Affleck delivers perhaps the best performance of actor of his career in THE WAY BACK (Gavin O’Connor, 2020), a film whose script is obviously echoing the tumultuous personal life of the one who has already won two Oscars for WILL HUNTING (1997, best screenplay) and ARGO (2012, best film).
A beer in the shower
THE WAY BACK tells both a cure and a redemption, that of a former great college basketball player, once promised a bright future, but whose career has been marred by the ravages of alcohol. At the start of the film, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) works on a construction site, where as in his car, at home or at the bar, he puts on gin or beer every day like water. His cans even follow him into his shower, placed next to the soap. Alcohol also took its toll on his marriage, and his ex-wife is now living with someone else. In short, our main character is at the bottom of the hole, until he is offered to take over the post of coach of his high school team, where a major challenge awaits him.
The students have deserted basketball because of the poor results of the team, which never wins and has not qualified once for the play-offs since Jack left. The latter therefore takes the head of a team where there are a few broken arms, but also a very talented leader, to make them real champions, in the great tradition of many American films on sports coaches (see below ). However, THE WAY BACK does not rank so easily in this category, since beyond a few pretty match scenes that will delight basketball fans, the driving force of the film is undoubtedly the heckled personal journey of the coach, and not his team.
An almost autobiographical role for Ben Affleck
The American actor and director does not really hide it: he is quite familiar with his character’s alcoholism problems. His repeated stays in rehab and the long disintegration of his marriage (2005-2018) with actress Jennifer Garner made the head of the celebrity press, of which he has been one of the favorite targets since his debut. Courageously, Ben Affleck didn’t hesitate to bring up his alcohol addiction in several recent interviews, which help to understand how the role he plays in Gavin O’Connor’s feature film may have been cathartic for him. .
The WAY BACK can also be seen as a meta film about the actor’s inner demons, whose relapse was still making the headlines of the tabloids at the start of filming in 2018. Fortunately, Affleck was able to count not only on help of his now ex-wife, but also on the confidence of the American director with whom he had already worked in 2016 on MR. WOLFF. This mix of thriller and action (where he plays an autistic accountant) had met with surprise box office success, at a time when the actor’s Hollywood career was not at its best.
The basketball coach, a staple of American cinema
Gavin O’Connor is also known for not being a penguin when it comes to sports films, since in 2004, he shone by telling in MIRACLE the story of the American hockey team at the 1980 Olympics, before repeat in 2011 with the muscular WARRIOR, where two brothers prepare to face each other in a tournament of MMA (mixed martial arts). But of America’s sports kings, those where the main character is a coach who leads a team of basketball players to improbable results is a Hollywood classic. We think of course of COACH CARTER (Thomas Carter, 2005), where Samuel L. Jackson played a coach who really existed, the intransigent Ken Carter, who demanded of his players from poor neighborhoods to obtain good results in d other subjects than sport, not hesitating to forfeit and interrupt the series of invincibility of his team to achieve this goal.
Still in the “based on a true story” category, LES CHEMINS DU TRIOMPHE (James Gartner, 2006) focuses on the story of trainer Don Haskins (Josh Lucas in the film), the first to have played five blacks for a final of the NCAA college championship in 1966, in the very conservative state of Texas. In another style, BLUE CHIPS (William Friedkin, 1994) found then-active player Shaquille O’Neal alongside Nick Nolte, as the college coach under pressure, who gives in to the temptation of a prohibited practice to obtain results, before making an act of contrition. Finally, we saved the best for last, with HOOSIERS (David Anspaugh, 1986), one of the best films on the subject of sport, and more specifically basketball. The plot is very close to that of THE WAY BACK since Gene Hackman also plays a former alcoholic trainer who tries to lead the team of a small high school in Indiana to victory. In this cult film, Dennis Hopper also plays an alcoholic trainer, which will earn him an Oscar nomination. An honor that Ben Affleck would also have deserved this year.
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THE WAY BACK, the comeback of Ben Affleck | myCANAL