Everyone probably knows these kinds of movies by heart by now. There’s a sports team that isn’t doing well, coach with personal struggles and someone (usually other coach) looking down on them. The Way Back certainly has all of them but makes that struggle to be alcoholism masking something that’s been left unresolved. As a film though it seems to be afraid of the subject matter, not wanting to admit the issue in hand.
Ben Affleck as the beaten-down construction worker/alcoholic/high school coach Jack Cunningham is really what keeps this boat afloat. With the role that’s close to heart of Affleck’s due to his own alcoholism and rehab, he is giving it his all. He doesn’t oversell the audience anything but instead of unnecessarily lashing to everyone for no reason, the real destruction is directed toward Jack himself. Affleck’s portrayal is vulnerable and scary. The Way Back itself does thankfully divert some expectations and cliches, opting to focus on Jack and not covering his problems with minor success in sports. That way the movie doesn’t fall into the trap of forgettability.
Where as Affleck is the epitome of personal, the film really lacks that. It moves steadily, doesn’t have its own dialogue and is just a sketch that hasn’t been coloured. Directing choices are straight out of beginner’s playbook, moving the ball with shaky hands instead of attacking with strategy. No one except Affleck and Al Madrigal (Dan) is moving or speaking naturally in the shots. There’s not enough purpose behind the introductions of Jack’s inner circle: Janina Gavankar (ex-wife Angela) has nothing to do, his mentorship with Brandon (played by Brandon Wilson) doesn’t go anywhere and the hospital scene involving some friends was laughably out-of-place since we know nothing about them. The Way Back just isn’t playing as a team.
Smileys: Ben Affleck
Frowneys: Directing, dialogue
Shot accuracy from free throws seems to be about 50% with this one. 40% of that is Affleck taking them with concentrated power of will.