Review by Dan Skip Allen
If a sports film is doing it right, it will inspire and it will leave someone full of emotions such, some positive and some negative. The Way Back accomplishes that in spades. This film will leave you emotionally drained by the end. The stark reality of alcoholism and the cost it takes from a person and those close to said man is evidently clear throughout the film. Everybody in a person's life pays the price of alcoholism. It's a disease that affects thousands around the world every day.
Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) is a man dealing with a lot of pain and anguish. How he deals with it is to drink himself into a stupor every night. One morning after he answers a message from the priest of his old Catholic high school. He has requested that Jack be the new basketball coach of the old team he played for. He begrudgingly accepts the offer. The thing is he doesn't know what he's got himself into. This isn't the same team he played for when he was a player in high school. It's also a different era than when he played as well.
Ben Affleck has had some difficult times in recent years. Like his character in The Way Back, he descended into the bottle. It caused him to be divorced by his then-wife, Jennifer Garner, and lose his kids. Jack is seeking redemption by coaching these kids he could relate to because he was one of them at one time. Ben seems to have this role because it was very similar to his own life. He is also seeking that same redemption by portraying this character. It is a very prophetic experience for him in his life. It's rare that an actor can get clarity, through a role that can help them in their personal life.
Gavin O'Connor has arguably directed some of the best films of the last twenty years in Miracle, Warrior, and The Accountant, the latter of which Ben Affleck back in 2016. Like that film, The Way Back deals with a man completely isolated by his own life. O'Connor has a knack for taking these characters and making them be relatable in society. Whether it be two brothers who don't get along with themselves or their father in Warrior or a coach that has to accomplish the impossible task of forming a team that can beat the unbeatable in Miracle. All the films and characters within them have to battle their own personal demons. That's why they are so effective with the audiences watching them.
With The Way Back, Affleck and O'Connor delve deep into the mind of a very damaged man. The alcoholism portrayed in the film is spot on. From personal experience, I can say that I have never seen this disease depicted better in a film ever! The things he does and the penalty he has to pay is on par with many people who have suffered from this debilitating illness. Including myself. Ben Affleck gives the performance of his career in the best movie of the year so far. This film is the first film of the entire year that actually says something about life and the relationships we form. They can make an impact on someone. A person could come into another person's life at the right time and that could make all the difference in the world. In the case of a coach and his or her team, it could be all the motivation they need to keep on living or fighting to survive.
The Way Back opens in theaters on March 6.