Sports dramas are exciting and influential films even if they do feel a little formulaic at times. They showcase interesting themes that will heavily inspire the audience such as camaraderie, hard work, and perseverance. In this case, The Way Back tries to be a little different from your standard sports drama that you probably have seen a thousand times before. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, who has also made other sports features like Miracle and Warrior, he reunites once again with Ben Affleck in their second collaboration after filming The Accountant. This time around, it’s a very personal story for the lead actor, and it wants to be a compelling character study that moviegoers will undeniably connect with.
Affleck plays a man named Jack Cunningham who’s an alcoholic trying to move on from a personal tragedy and face his inner demons. During his high school days, he had been known as a highly talented basketball player, but he also decided not to accept a scholarship for the University of Kansas for unknown reasons. Flash forward, and his life starts getting worse and worse until he gets an opportunity to coach his former basketball team and hopefully lead the players into winning the championship.
Without a doubt, the best part of the movie is Affleck’s performance. You can tell the premise feels like a personal and touching story for the lead actor as he has dealt with alcoholism before. It’s rough to watch sometimes because you don’t like seeing him go through so much pain in his life. The Way Back isn’t based on a true story, but it’s pulled off that way, especially with the fact that Affleck deeply connects with his role on a personal level. Ultimately, it’s more of an emotional character study than a basketball flick, which will either please or irritate you in some way.
The Way Back does have some memorable basketball sequences, but there’s unfortunately not enough of them for you to be fully immersed. You don’t really get to see a lot of team dynamics between Cunningham and his players, which is pretty disappointing. Everyone except the main protagonist is underdeveloped, and you don’t care about any of them. Brandon Wilson’s role as the captain of the team, who’s also named Brandon, feels a lot more fleshed out compared to the rest of the players, but his backstory is still rushed nonetheless. During the first and second act, the editing is a little choppy especially when it transitions from Cunningham’s backstory to the basketball sequences. However, the final act truly delivers as an emotionally satisfying climax that actually makes the premise a lot more compelling.
Despite the fact that some minor characters are underdeveloped and the storytelling is pretty formulaic in its execution, The Way Back is worth watching at least once for Ben Affleck’s authentic and mature performance. It’s a premise you’ve seen many times before, but you can’t deny that it’s still something we can all relate to. Even with its flaws, it will be sure to connect with the audience as a personal yet powerful story revolving around this guy who’s trying to redeem himself from his past mistakes.
The Way Back is now playing in theatres.