Ben Affleck’s amazing performance turns a clichéd sports story into a realistic addiction story.
I was very happy when I found out that Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”, “The Accountant“) and Ben Affleck (“Gone Girl”, “Triple Frontier”) were reteaming after the underrated 2016’s “The Accountant“. They turned a generic action movie into a character-driven story that had action mixed in, so I was correct in guessing they were going to do it again with this sports story.
O’Connor has a history with sports films after directing ‘Miracle’ and one of the best sports films of all-time, 2011’s ‘Warrior,’ so I knew he would make a compelling story with the generic basketball outline.
The generic basketball story has Affleck’s Jack Cunningham as an alcoholic construction worker who gets offered the Head Coach position from his alma-mater. If this was in another’s hands, the story would have him get better as the team learned to play better, but O’Connor doesn’t let that happen.
Affleck turns in one of his best performances to date as an alcoholic who gave up way before we meet him. Cunningham’s struggles closely mirror Affleck’s true-life struggle with his Hollywood comeback about a decade ago as well as the oft-publicized alcohol issues.
Affleck has great chemistry with the teen players as well as scene-stealer Al Madrigal (“Night School”, “The Daily With Trevor Noah (TV)”) who plays the Assistant Coach Dan.
As much as I enjoy drinking, the film showed how quickly it can get out of control. One scene for example shows Cunningham opening his fridge to what looks like 20-30 beers as he begins to mull over the decision to coach the basketball team.
The scene starts innocently for laughs then slowly starts to build his uncontrollable consumption to zero beers in his fridge. By the end of the scene, you sympathize with him and Affleck makes sure we all notice the dejectedness through his empty cans and swollen face.
The action on the basketball takes backseat to the sidelines as the camera mostly focuses on Cunningham swearing at the players to make the correct reads. As a basketball fan, I saw the mistakes coming and it made me upset like Cunnungham. O’Connor brings the audience in for snippets of the games, so you know the team is getting better, but Cunningham is still sort of the same.
I don’t want to spoil the perfect 3rd act of the film, but I do hope this is found by those affected by addiction. Affleck deserves all the praise as he made addiction look as horrendous as it really is. There was nothing positive about what he goes through in the film, which is different from how positive this film was.