Before the world shut down I had the chance to see the new film The Way Back in the theater. I was pretty excited for this film because I love underdog sports movies and director Gavin O’Connor has made 2 of my favorites: Miracle and Warrior (which was best picture worthy if you ask me). Now we have The Way Back and it turned out to be a very surprising film. It’s not perfect but definitely worth a watch if only for Ben Affleck’s raw and intimate performance.
On the surface The Way Back is very similar to the sports classic Hoosiers. Both films are about scrappy underdog basketball teams and both have deeply wounded coaches with troubled pasts. (There’s even a scene where the coach fires a player for rudeness at the beginning of each film). However, the difference between the films is The Way Back is less a redemption story and more a portrait of the life of an alcoholic mid-addiction. In fact, some people might be frustrated at how little this film is about basketball.
Especially knowing Affleck’s own history with addiction his performance in The Way Back is completely devastating. As he struggles to appear normal throughout the day you see the ache in his eyes and the pull the alcohol has in its momentary release from life’s problems. Affleck’s character has a backstory that makes him susceptible to drowning his addiction and the further he spirals the more I found myself rooting for his character- rooting that he could find a way out of this terrible disease.
I have lost 2 of my cousins to the traps of addiction and so much of The Way Back was hard to watch. I cried a lot as the film provides no easy answers and does not sugarcoat things at all. It is very tough but rewarding for Affleck’s tremendous performance.
In fact, his performance was so good I found myself not caring much about the basketball. The weight of who won the big game felt inconsequential in comparison with the life and death struggle of Affleck’s character. I almost wish they hadn’t made his job matter at all to the plot because the 2 types of storytelling (addiction drama and underdog sports movie) didn’t gel well together. Also the story would have meant a little more if it was based off of a true story and not fiction.
All that said, the addiction drama stuff is really good and Affleck gives a tremendous performance. The Way Back is definitely worth checking out for that alone. Almost every family in America is impacted by addiction in one form or another so most should be able to relate to this broken man fighting a seemingly insurmountable battle with his demons.
7 out of 10