The title of writer-director E.B. Hughes‘ The Long Way Back is a perfect description of the road to redemption. Max Lyons (Denny Dale Bess) is a free man after spending a year and a half in prison. His crime was theft, but he did it out of the instinct to survive.
As with many stories about going home, Max is confronted with two very different paths. He can either return to the life that put him in prison or blaze a new trail to personal freedom. Max’s old path is represented by kingpin and drug dealer, Lucius (Mark Borkowski). Max was a frequent client and, in a moment of weakness, stole $20K, and Lucius wants it back. He sends his lackey Johnnie (Ron Rey) out to track Max down and apply “pressure” to repay his debt.
Max’s bright future comes in the form of his new next-door neighbor, Sara (Reyna Kahan). The two first meet across the hall—instantly, sparks fly, and a romance is born. Wanting to start on the right foot, Max confesses to Sarah his shady past.
This new relationship represents the possibility of a fresh start, but that road to redemption means Max needs to confront his former misdeeds. The hard part is Max cannot repay Lucius because no one wants to hire a felon, and $20K is a lot of money. Adding to his trouble is the drug addiction Max has not entirely kicked, which doesn’t thrill Sara.
“…Max cannot repay Lucius because no one wants to hire a felon, and $20K is a lot of money.”
Fortunately, Max has friends for support aside from Sara. Ziggy (Don Striano) runs the apartment that Max lives in and protects him from Johnnie. I suppose I can add the psychic (Franklin Ojeda Smith), who offers sage advice.
The Long Way Back falls decidedly in the indie drama category, which Film Threat is so fond of. Sure, E.B. Hughes could have used the twenty grand that Max stole to fund the project, but it may have lost its charm. Hughes’ story appears to be shot on film with simple handheld camera set-ups. Though the lighting could have been better overall, as sometimes Bess’ face is obscured by darkness in the beginning. However, the audio is pretty decent, which has ruined many movies like this.
Hughes also gets good performances from his cast, especially from his lead Bess—who carries the entire film. He has good chemistry with Reyna Kahan. I appreciate an indie movie giving actors a shot at meaty roles in a big studio system that would throw two or three-line crumbs while it spends its time on pricier stars. What Bess does so well is to create sympathy for Max and make him a character I could root for throughout the film.
If The Long Way Back has a weakness is its story about an ex-con returning to his life, as it’s been told many times over. It’s not that Hughes’ story is bad, but it doesn’t separate itself from the pack in any way. Also, the ending is particular to Max’s story, meaning the key to his road to freedom from his past life could not happen to the majority of real ex-cons and comes across as a convenient way to wrap up the story.
"…Bess...carries the entire film."