Ben Affleck shines in this powerful drama that almost hits too close to home. It feels like his most personal performance to date and the first time in a long time that he’s done something he’s truly passionate about. The Way Back is an emotional journey that to this day is Afflecks greatest performance.
Jack Cunningham was a HS basketball phenom who walked away from the game, forfeiting his future. Years later, when he reluctantly accepts a coaching job at his alma mater, he may get one last shot at redemption.
“It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, cause that’s going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get back up.” Truer words have never been spoken by one person explaining themselves. Ben Affleck has had one hell of a career in Hollywood since he came into our lives in the ’90s. His storied journey is one for the record books, with all sorts of incredible highs, winning Best Picture for Argo and winning Best Screenplay
This brings us to now, and his newest project, The Way Back. Which follows an ex-basketball star turned alcoholic, turned basketball coach. It’s a touching manner for Ben, seeing how he himself has battled addiction of all sorts and has been in the public eye for alcohol abuse. It has changed his life forever and shaped part of his saga in Hollywood. This movie is a comeback story, a story that we have seen time and time again play out with Affleck, and that is why this just feels like the most important thing he has ever been apart of.
Sports movies can usually be described with one word, “cliche.” So whenever a new teen sports movie comes around its tough not to go in thinking you know the exact recipe that’s about to be cooked up. The Way Back delivers some of the normal tropes, the montage, the coming together as a team, the best player realizing that he is, in fact, the best player on the team. What separates this from every other sports movie that I can remember watching, is how this detours in the 3rd act. Everything in life doesn’t always have a happy ending, and sometimes these are the stories that need to be told. The Way Back unlike most sports movies doesn’t have the classic “Hollywood” ending, which is almost the best part of the film. This is a movie that deals with real-life problems, real-life issues, that when they come to the surface, they will have serious consequences. So when alcoholism and trying to mentor young boys, these can become messy. Gavin O’Connor who is no stranger to sports movies, he’s responsible for Miracle and Warrior, isn’t afraid to hit home on serious issues that pack an emotional punch.
Ben Affleck had pretty big shoulders when he was suiting up and fighting crime as Batman. Here, however, it feels like he has the weight of the entire world on his broad bulky shoulders. He was big and buff as Batman, but in The Way Back he’s big and messy and covered in beer sweats. Affleck will break you down, he chips away at you slowly, until he himself breaks. His performance is best described by his character Jack Cunningham, a once-renowned high-school superstar turned boozehound. He always tells his team to chip away little by little whenever they find themselves in a hole. You find yourself wondering how he turned into the man we see before us, and what drove him to the point of drinking a case of beer every day. The more you chip away at his past the more you realize what can break a man. Affleck himself has battled many demons and at certain moments in the film, it’s almost like he’s not even acting anymore. It’s so raw and emotional you can’t help but get choked up yourself. Affleck dishes out a triple-double performance and this is without question the best of his career.
As for the basketball aspect of the film. I’d say it’s the most realistic stuff we’ve ever seen. With how it’s shot, the language spoken and how modern it all feels. The kids are fantastic and have terrific chemistry. The team has all the classic characters, the loudmouth, the hype man, the outcast and so on. I wish they spent a little more time with the team and building up their stories. Then again this isn’t really a basketball movie at its core. It’s a character study showing how someone broken can little by little get back to being themselves and the insane hardships that come along the way.
It’s hard not to root for Affleck and you want him to find his way back. Seeing him do the press tour and all sorts of interviews and seeing how happy and healthy he looks just brings a smile to my face. Even better is the fact that this movie is not just good but great and critics even think so too.
Bring your tissues folks.
The Way Back = 84/100