The Way Back

Movie Information

Ben Affleck gives a great performance in this atypical sports/alcoholism drama.
Genre: Drama
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Michaela Watkins
Rated: R

What’s refreshing about The Way Back is that it doesn’t follow the familiar sports movie path. This is not the 2020 version of Hoosiers, and whether or not there’s a winner or a happy ending is left for viewers to determine — a nice bit of trust placed in the audience by director Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant), who co-wrote the script with Brad Inglesby (Run All Night).

Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) is steered toward a road to redemption when given an opportunity to coach the basketball team at his former high school. Cunningham was the best player in school history, set to be a college star at Kansas and maybe more. But he squandered his future with self-destructive tendencies that have lingered well into adulthood. Personal tragedy furthered a downward spiral that cost Cunningham his marriage and left him as a barely functioning alcoholic.

But coaching a talented yet underachieving team awakens something in Cunningham. Maybe he sees some of himself in star player Brandon (Brandon Wilson), who needs encouragement to fulfill a potential that shouldn’t be wasted. Viewed by the community as the returning hero, perhaps Cunningham realizes this is a chance to reinvent himself. Or maybe a basketball court is the only place where the world makes sense for him. Work hard, work together and good things will happen.

Many possibilities exist in what isn’t a simple story. What is clear, however, is that Affleck’s performance is a great one. The Way Back may not be as uplifting or conventional as expected, but that makes it worth watching.

About Ian Casselberry
Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and Mountain Xpress, and hear him on WISE Sports Radio. He's written for Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.

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