“The Way Back” tells the story of Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), a former basketball star whose life has fallen into a never-ending spiral of depression. He wakes, works, drinks, and returns home to an empty house to do the same routine all over again. Until one day he’s given an opportunity to coach the basketball team at his former alma mater. Although he’s reluctant at first, Cunningham eventually accepts the job. While the players he’s given aren’t the best bunch, Cunningham takes it upon himself to turn not only the team around, but his life.
It’s almost funny how sports films and drama go so well together. Events that usually focus on excitement and action, have become the focal points for some of cinema’s most dramatic stories: “Rocky,” “The Blind Side,” “The Mighty Ducks,” okay that last one may have been a poor example, but its plot is somewhat similar to “The Way Back,” so I’m using it.
Anyway, as the main star of the film, Ben Affleck does a great job and gives a strong and believable performance. In fact, as a sad bit of trivia, Ben Affleck actually did struggle with alcoholism in real life. So, good on him for taking on a role like this. It also helps that the film was directed by Gavin O’Connor, who some of you may know as the director who gave us the heartwarming and patriotic 2004 sports film “Miracle,” and also the hit 2011 boxing film “Warrior.”
All in all, the acting, directing and cinematography is fantastic, a tremendous success. Unfortunately, where the film suffers the most is in the writing. We’ve seen this story done over a dozen stories—a depressed alcoholic whose whole life fell apart because of one tragic event. Now, you can work with a story that’s been done before, so long as you add to it like a new spin on the tale or include interesting turns and twists; but that doesn’t happen here. I spent the majority of my viewing for “The Way Back” waiting for a twist that was never to come.
The bulk of the movie just focuses on Ben Affleck’s character, and that’s about it. You would think that as a sports film we’d see Affleck’s character interacting with the different players, learning about them as we see him develop a bond with his team. The script had loads of areas to explore and develop its characters, but it just doesn’t because the script was tethered to Ben Affleck’s character. Almost every scene can be boiled down to this: Ben Affleck enters scene, acts angry or depressed, end scene.
The depression arc of the movie basically overshadows the basketball focus of the story, in this SPORTS DRAMA film. It a real loss because it’s not like the teens in the movie couldn’t act, they were all great. I almost feel bad for them because I wish this film had given them more to work with. Besides maybe one character, little time is spent to develop the players and their backstory. They’re mostly just there to give Ben Affleck’s character something to focus on besides drinking until the big conclusion.
“The Way Back” is rated R for language throughout. If you’re a fan of Ben Affleck or sports movies, you’ll probably get some enjoyment from this film. If none of that entices you, however, then you should probably just avoid this one, because the final score for “The Way Back” is a 6.5 out of 10.
Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. He currently serves as a Journalist and Copy Editor to the Coastal Breeze News and is working on becoming a Published Author.