Quick Reviews: 'The Way Back', 'The Gentlemen' | Ben Affleck Does Sports, Guy Ritchie Does Crime
THE WAY BACK
Everyone probably knows these kinds of movies by heart by now. There’s a sports team that isn’t doing well, a coach with personal struggles and someone (usually other coach) looking down on them. The Way Back certainly has all of them but makes that struggle to be alcoholism masking something that’s been left unresolved. As a film though it seems to be afraid of the subject matter, not wanting to admit the issue in hand.
Ben Affleck as the beaten-down construction worker/alcoholic/high school coach Jack Cunningham is really what keeps this boat afloat. With the role that’s close to Affleck's heart due to his own alcoholism and rehab, he is giving it his all. He doesn’t oversell the audience anything but instead of unnecessarily lashing out at everyone for no reason, the real destruction is directed toward Jack himself. Affleck’s portrayal is vulnerable and scary. The Way Back itself does thankfully divert some expectations and cliches, opting to focus on Jack and not covering his problems with minor success in sports. That way the movie doesn’t fall into the trap of forgettability.
Whereas Affleck is the epitome of personal, the film really lacks that. It moves steadily, doesn’t have its own dialogue and is just a sketch that hasn’t been coloured. Gavin O'Connor's directing choices are straight out of beginner’s playbook, moving the ball with shaky hands instead of attacking with strategy. No one except Affleck and Al Madrigal (Dan) is moving or speaking naturally in the shots. There’s not enough purpose behind the introductions of Jack’s inner circle: Janina Gavankar as Jack's ex-wife Angela has nothing to do, his mentorship with Brandon (played by Brandon Wilson) doesn’t go anywhere and the hospital scene involving some friends was laughably out-of-place since we know nothing about them. The Way Back just isn’t playing as a team.
Smileys: Ben Affleck
Frowneys: Directing, dialogue
Shot accuracy from free throws seems to be about 50% with this one. 40% of that is Affleck taking them with concentrated power of will.
The Gentlemen seems to be a weird culmination of something you’d see in a theatre in 2002 and a series you’d watch on network TV at 10pm in 2012. It’s a product frozen in time which on one hand can amuse you with its wits and on other hand bore you since you’ve seen it before. Only now there are smartphones and grime music. What follows is a script by director and writer Guy Ritchie that seems smart when you’re a bit tipsy and actors trying their hardest to make it entertaining.
The cast all around is bringing their A+ effort to the table, in multitude of insane personalities which lend themselves for vivacious physical acting. Hugh Grant (as Fletcher) is having an unexpected second wave during his career, playing roles that morph him to be unrecognisable. He follows his 'Paddington 2' role with another way-too-much-too-fast character with movement that pops through the screen. Colin Farrell (Coach) is all about taking names and kicking butt and I mean that literally. Farrell’s character is more subdued but that’s exactly the reason why he keeps surprising you. Others like Charlie Hunnam, Matthew McConaughey and Jeremy Strong provide a solid backing line.
Ritchie’s writing gives the actors very little outside of some interesting monologues made for Grant. It throws a lot of punchlines from left and right and they’ll likely divide the viewers on if they find them amusing. Problem with those punchlines as the driving force of comedy in this action comedy is that they’re not built up at all. We have no idea if the butt of the joke deserves to be one or if the jokes are part of a bigger conversation since there are never responses to them. A lot of them also lead up to a scene at Miramax (yes the production company of the film) which might be the biggest miss of the year in both self-awareness and in being a part of a movie’s climax. The film also features a deplorable scene involving sexual assault and a tired, dragged out sequence featuring a character named Phuc (Jason Wong).
Smileys: Hugh Grant
Frowneys: Screenplay, humour
These gentlemen have style but no manners whatsoever.