Review: down on his luck and out of jail, “THE LONG WAY BACK”

For some, redemption lies at the end of a long and difficult path. For many, that road is without a bend, to others a winding and treacherous journey of doubt awaits. To those who have done jail time all this can seem impossible.

Writer/director E.B. Hughes’’s New York City-set “The Long Way Back” follows one Max Lyons, a man who’s  just been released from prison after doing a year and a half stretch for theft.

On the bus back to the city Max shoots up some heroin. It is clear from the very beginning that Max’s recovery will be a tough quest; eventually much tougher than he imagines.

After Max moves into his small apartment in a low-rent building he meets Sara, a woman who rents the room across the hall. The two share instant chemistry, a romance ensues.

While Max and Sara’s relationship is naturally played, it comes much too quickly. After their hallway introduction and a scene where Max brings Sara a bottle of wine, they have dinner and sleep together and fall for one another.

It would have been stronger dramatically to have more scenes between them. Their dialogues are interesting, but the film seems too anxious for them to connect, as their relationship will play an important part in the story.

So many films have been made about lost souls coming together to find a moment of grace in an unfriendly world, especially after prison, the bid for redemption, the films of Robert Bresson and Paul Schrader being primary examples of this. It takes an inventive writer to make characters like these appear new. Hughes’s screenplay isn’t always consistent, but Denny Dale Bess and Reyna Kahan, as Max and Sara, respectively, are compelling.

Max finds his demons from the past have returned as his romance with Sara flourishes. More dangerous than his heroin addiction, Lucius Jones (Mark Borkowski) is the drug dealer whom Max stole twenty thousand dollars from before going inside. Surprise, surprise, Lucious wants his money back or, as he tells one of his men, he’ll have Max delivered to him in garbage bags.

Mona (Sayra Player), Lucious’s girlfriend, as a coked-out Blanche DuBois, desperately wants out and hopes to be whisked away by someone. Anyone. Her few scenes are real—heartbreakingly so.

Ron Rey does well as Johnnie, Lucious’s right-hand man who is tasked with bringing Max back. Johnnie talks tough but there is more to his character’s moments with Max and things take an unexpected turn.

Hughes finds poignancy amongst the familiar and keeps his film engaging. His skill to tell a story (both as writer and filmmaker) is manifest and the resulting film is honorable in spite of the ultra-low budget. E.B. Hughes’ indie piece does this oft-told tale justice through patient storytelling and the dedicated performances from his cast.

“The Long Way Back” is more character study than straight crime film, and this is a film finds its strength in its characters.

This is a refreshing drama that gives us people who strive to move beyond guilt and the director makes us care. We hope that they can navigate the elusive path to absolution.