Ben Affleck manages to deliver a masterclass in acting with his performance as an alcoholic basketball coach in The Way Back.
Gavin O’Connor has done it again. The director of Miracle and Warrior knows his way around a sports movie. Brad Ingelsby’s script isn’t immune to some of the classic sports film cliches but that’s alright. The most climactic scene in the film doesn’t quite hit with the level it should because we already know what’s going to happen. When it comes to sports film, The Way Back plays it by the book. However, Ben Affleck’s performance manages to elevate the film with his performance.
Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) isn’t living his best moment. He’s separated from his wife, Angela (Janina Gavankar), for reasons we don’t know about when we first meet him. Whatever the cause, it’s probably one of the reasons why he drinks to no end every single night. Here’s a guy who had a full ride to attend Kansas University and play for the Jayhawks. And yet, he just decides to walk away from the game. Regardless, he needs the game as much as the game needs him. Maybe it’s a sign but Father Devine calls him to take over the coaching duties at Bishop Hayes High School. The team may not be playing well but it’ll give Jack something to do. It may not stop the drinking but maybe it’ll give him some meaning in his life again.
Nevermind the aforementioned sports cliches but once the film gets into the second hour, it really gets going. You find yourself rooting for Jack to beat his alcohol addiction. It’s not unfair to say that coaching the basketball team has changed him.
Gavin O’Connor superbly directs this film. We get some snippets of their basketball games throughout the season. However, when it comes to the playoff-clinching contest, it’s no surprise that they show as much of the game on screen as possible. Right down to the cliche slow-motion in the final seconds as they let off the last-second shot in hope of a win. But because the film plays it by the book, we already know what’s going to happen! Regardless, I found myself wanting to see more basketball on the screen. It’s quite the way to kick off March Madness so to speak.
This may be a film that grounds itself through basketball but Ben Affleck delivers one of his best career performances in The Way Back.
DIRECTOR: Gavin O’Connor
SCREENWRITER: Brad Ingelsby
CLASS: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, Glynn Turman, Brandon Wilson, Will Ropp, Charles Lott Jr., and Melvin Gregg