THE WAY BACK
Running Time: 108 mins.
Where Can You See It?: In theaters now
Premise: All-star high school basketball player Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) is now a washed-up alcoholic, drinking beer in the shower and on the way home from his construction gig. But, when his alma mater offers him the head basketball coach position, he must face his personal demons in order to win on and off the court.
Behind-the-Scenes: Originally titled The Has-Been, you can understand why the studio (and Affleck himself) probably asked for a title change – the reviews almost write themselves. Affleck must personally relate to the material – he’s had several rehab stints for alcoholism over the years. His press tour for The Way Back has been largely confessional. Affleck previously teamed up with director Gavin O’Connor on 2014’s actioner The Accountant.
The Good: Ben Affleck. I don’t know if this is the greatest performance he’s ever given, but one could certainly make the case for it. Affleck is an underrated actor, and nobody hurts his career progression more than he does himself, but between this and Gone Girl, it’s hard to deny his talent in the right role. Jack Cunningham is almost too right a role. Affleck makes Cunningham a lived-in, wholly believable character in every scene, and carries the film on his broad shoulders. The script doesn’t play by the usual sports drama cliches, and seems much more interested in the alcoholism subplot.
The Bad: It’s low-key to a fault, with a repetitive, minimal score that just begs for you to feel something. Things get rough for Cunningham, but the movie never goes as dark as it probably could. By avoiding some of the sports cliches, it never really clicks when focusing on the sports element. And by spending so much time on basketball, it never fully does justice to its Leaving Las Vegas-type character study. Sort of occupies this movie purgatory, albeit a still respectable one, for most of its running time, and then it abruptly ends – leaving the audience wanting for more.
Should You See It?: Yes, but unless you’re a big Affleck fan, you can wait. I take no joy in saying that – I want studios like Warner Bros. to keep making old-school, mid-budget adult dramas like this, but nobody goes to see them in theaters. If viewing habits don’t change, before we know it, movies like The Way Back really could be a Has-Been.
Star Rating: *** out of 5 stars
Better Than: Glory Road, Coach Carter
Worse Than: Leaving Las Vegas, Flight
* * *