The Way Back stars Ben Affleck as a man battling alcoholism and a failing marriage. In an attempt to straighten up he is asked to coach a high school basketball team because of his talents while in high school himself.
It was released on March 6, 2020 and has a roughly One hour and Fifty minute run time. It comes from the visionary direction of Gavin O’Connor who directed the likes of The Accountant (2011)(also starring Ben Affleck) and Warrior (2016). Both of which are very good movies. Ben Affleck gives one of his most compelling acting performances of his career while he is supported by a cast of talented actors and actresses most of which are not mainstream, at least at this point in there careers. Most of the cast do a lot of work on TV. Which could change after this comes out. Nothing against TV, I just don’t watch many shows on television. Janina Gavankar plays Affleck’s wife who does an incredible job, she is most known for her TV work.
Jack Cunningham had amazing talent in high school basketball. But after turning down scholarships and having his life spiral out of control through drugs and alcohol. We find Jack, middle aged and battling with an alcohol addiction. Learning about his life and marital problems we watch him as he is falling apart, only to be turned around by his priest offering him a position to coach the basketball team at the high school he used to attend, in the sport he used to dominate. It works well until old old wounds, the death of his son primarily, works their way back into his life challenging the decisions he makes and where he will go from there.
To say that Ben goes above and beyond in this role is an understatement. I think its common knowledge at this point that Ben Affleck has had some extreme battles of his own with alcohol, and it comes through in his performance. I don’t know what it is. But there is something about him that is so down to earth. He conveys the every man’s man. I buy him as this guy. Where with some other actors, Matt Damon to name one, sorry Matt, its harder for me to disconnect. The whole time I watched The Martian I couldn’t help but think that’s Matt Damon. But a really compelling aspect of this movie is that everyone feels real. I appreciate as well, that its not about the time or place in which the movie takes place. It was probably half way through that it occurred to me I didn’t know where we were in the country. As well the characters didn’t necessarily give off one distinct area demographic. Any of those details could have been changed and it wouldn’t have effected the main characters in any way.
All the actors do a good job with the roles they are given. The chemistry between Ben and Jenina is very convincing as they play a couple who are dealing with loss. The boys who make up the basketball team are good, but are definitively the weakest part of the film. Aside from one or two boys, specifically Brandon Wilson and Melvin Gregg, the others are more cookie cutter characters from any sports related movie. It doesn’t take away from the movie just an simple analysis.
To comment on one other thing, is this a sports movie or a character drama? To be fair IMDB lists it as a sports drama. But this isn’t Glory Road or Remember The Titans. Watching Jack Cunningham wake up and the first thing he does is take a drink. The last thing he does before passing out is drunkenly walk home from the bar aided by an old friend. It isn’t easy to watch, every sip is painful to see. But it makes the ending all the more rewarding, even if what we get at the end isn’t what we expected. Not necessarily in a bad way. This is a drama, the sports scenes more often than not cut away from the action to focus on our character. I can’t say it enough though, everything done is in the best way possibly. I just think the marketing was a little misleading.
To give a content advisory, this movie is rated R for language throughout including sexual references. It is full of language. Almost every scene contains explicit language. The main character deals with anger and is constantly unable to watch his mouth even as the Catholic priest that travels with the team is giving him the stink eye.
To end on a positive note, if you can look past the pervasive language, this is an extremely well made movie, with outstanding acting from our main characters. Ben Affleck is in a league of his own when compared to some of his other performances in the past. Boy he seems to get better with age. And the redemptive message that permeates the film is one that warms the heart to its core.
At the end of the day I say Remember that Movie! The story of this man struggling with life is relateable, even if you aren’t dealing with the same battle that our character Jack Cunningham is. But his story will bring tears to your eyes.