A down-on-his-luck ex-con returns to New York where he must face the harsh reality of everyday life and the people who haunt him from his past. This is E.B. Hughes’ crime drama The Long Way Back.
It’s always great to have a returning filmmaker to Screen Critix and E.B. Hughes has become a regular contributor over the years. In 2017 we reviewed his Indie drama Turnabout, while last year we had a look at his mystery thriller Exit 0, which garnered more positive reviews. This time we have The Long Way Back, with Hughes giving us a more straightforward and familiar story, concerning a newly released convict and his attempts at keeping on the straight and narrow.
The Long Way Back opens on a somewhat melancholy note, with a gentle piano score and the introduction of Max, played by the softly spoken-yet-imposing Denny Dale Bess. We meet him on the day of his release from an 18-month prison sentence; he packs his bags, collects his things, walks his old neighbourhood, and moves back into a flat. We also see him inject himself with heroin and come to the conclusion that, although he is no longer a prisoner of the State, he has become a prisoner to addiction. With help from his best friend Ziggy (a warm-hearted Don Striano), Max begins to readjust and when he meets his new neighbour Sara (Reyna Kahan) he begins to believe in the possibility of redemption and a potential new life for himself with the girl next door.
As is always the case in these types of films, the path of true love hardly ever runs smooth, and with old enemies on every corner, Max is not going to find going straight easy. One such enemy is Lucius Jones, a menacing figure played very well by the brooding Mark Borkowski, who is a drug dealer and mini crime boss. Before he was sent down, Max stole $20,000 from Lucius, and when Lucius learns that Max is out of jail, he immediately begins plans to get his money back. This sets in motion the main plot, where every time Max tries to get out, his old acquaintances just keep pulling him back in.
Although we have seen similar stories many times before, E.B. Hughes has managed to put his own spin on the subject matter. Max is an ex-con but Hughes’ script doesn’t make him a case study or an object for our sympathy; Max isn’t a particularly nice guy and makes a number of wrong decisions. However, Hughes knows exactly who Max is, while also knowing the real drama exists in Max’s mind and that his battles are with the demons in his head, not necessarily the demons on the streets. The majority of characters in The Long Way Back are generally horrible people all, that is, except for Ziggy and Sara who are willing to withhold judgement long enough to see if Max can sort himself out.
The Cinematography by William J Murray remains very simple, with the neon lights of the City at night contrasting nicely with the brightly lit bedsit and daytime shots, while his choice of framing keeps every scene close and intimate. The soundtrack by Jeff Bowron, from the opening piano work to the quieter sounds, envelope the drama. While the editing, a joint effort between cinematographer Murray and John Gill, helps the 71 minutes of the film fly by, keeping the drama and action nicely paced and easy to follow.
The Long Way Back is a familiar story told very well. It is elevated to greater heights by the performances of it’s cast and a remarkably confident director who knows exactly what he wants to achieve.
It comes Highly recommended.