The Way Back (2020): Drama / Sport

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A man is offered to coach the high school basketball team that he used to play twenty-five years ago, but personal suffering and alcoholism will only exacerbate his problems.

I watched The Way Back based on assumptions. I thought it would be a Disney-like film about a man who struggles and through the kids’ basketball team finds redemption where, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after, the family watching it turns off the TV, and everyone goes to bed with a smile. Without revealing too much, I will tell you that this is not the case. Not really. Watching it, I found the lines were blurring between the plot and the subplot. Is it him and the basketball team the plot and his suffering the subplot? Or the other way around? I’ll leave this one with you, food for thought.

The Way Back has many strengths. Ben Affleck, who has faced himself several personal issues, alcoholism included, is always mastering roles such as this. Roles such as this made him famous and films like these are the reason his presence in front and behind the camera is still holding strong. Director Gavin O’Connor does a brilliant job making it an existential drama and I guess his experience from his previous drama/sport Warrior (2011) helped a lot. Then, all kids from the team deserve a round of applause as their performance is astonishing. A very well-executed film with an ultimately dramatic soundtrack.

The Way Back took a huge hit at the box office as every film did that premiered in March 2020. And it may not be Warrior, but it definitely deserves your attention. Yes, there are Disney elements in it when it comes to the basketball team and their effort to climb to the top. But when it comes to daily waking up to an “intolerable reality”, an HBO-esque feeling knocks the walls down, revealing you that in real life there is no easy way out. And, some times, unfortunately, not even a way back…

Stay safe!

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Creed II (2018): Drama / Sport

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Ivan Drago has a son… and they are coming to claim the heavyweight title from Balboa’s tutelage, Adonis Creed.

Is it enjoyable? It is. Is the training inspiring? It is. Is the acting convincing and the editing pacing the film as it should? Definitely. Is Tessa Thompson amazing? Hands down. Then what seems to be the issue?

I would put my finger on a few issues:

  • The first one is obvious, Creed II looks like a remake of Rocky IV (1985). But it’s a continuation based on Rocky IV, which makes it… repetitive?
  • Other than repetitive, the story is also quite predictable and formulaic.
  • As with every other Rocky franchise and Creed (2015), there is at least one training montage sequence. Creed II montage, as amusing as it may be, doesn’t add anything to the equation.
  • Lacks the strong verbal confrontation between Rocky and Ivan after more than three decades.

The aforementioned issues weaken Creed II. But there is one last issue which is more intricate and challenges the film… Before the first fight, Adonis doesn’t know what he is fighting for. Then, he figures it out, trains really hard, and goes again. The reason he decides to fight him is not as compelling as Viktor’s. Adonis has a much better life. Viktor’s life (and Ivan’s) is more dramatic and we, as an audience, feel the need to see him stepping into the ring and winning. Adonis’ reason is ego-driven. Simple as. Remember why he stepped into the ring in Creed? To prove that he’s not a mistake! Which made the audience get the goosebumps, even shed a tear, and root for the underdog which conquered the world.

The film financially did well. The devil is in the details though and these details could have made it a valuable addition both to the franchise and the spin-off.

The Wrestler (2008): Drama / Sport

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An aging professional wrestler, with an unsuitable for him part-time job, is forced to quit wrestling, forget his past glory, and find a way to cope in a world outside the ring.

You know why reviews can be harsh sometimes? Because of films like this one. Shot with a micro-budget of $6,000,000, “The Wrestler” is almost a perfect film. So when you watch unbearable films having cost ten times more, it can be infuriating. With Darren Aronofsky believing in and fighting for Mickey Rourke, and both of them believing in and dedicating themselves to the project like their life depends on it, The Wrestler could only be a masterpiece.

In a form of a docudrama, Aronofsky “cuts loose” Mickey Rourke letting him write and improvise his character and Rourke, in his mid-fifties, shines like never before (Oscar nomination / Golden Globe win). Both of them debunk the myths of WWF, and old wrestlers either “break down and cry” or characterise it as a “dark misinterpretation”. Be it as it may, it certainly gives a perspective and sheds some light on the professional wrestling world’s backstage.

Then, Evan Rachel Wood proves once more she possesses the Midas Touch of acting, turning all her performances into gold. And last but definitely not least, the always magnificent actress Marisa Tomei, in her mid-forties, puts women half her age to shame. Their short appearance in the film creates the perfect subtext that leads the story to the direction it was inevitably meant to be led.

The Wrestler is about a man facing the consequences of doing what he always thought he was destined to do and kept on doing despite everyone else’s disapproval or discouragement. External influences that come out of envy, kindness, hate, or pure love. But sheer will to succeed and remain at the top and blind dedication blur the lines and don’t leave time to distinguish which is which. And I guess if you only possess them both you ignore the influences and aim at your destiny regardless of the consequences.