The Way Back movie review (2020)

Director Gavin O’Connor delivers yet another chilling sports drama with The Way Back, which is a career best performance for Ben Affleck.

The coronavirus global pandemic sort of kept me from seeing this when I wanted too, but thanks to it releasing On Demand, I was finally able to watch Gavin O’Connor’s latest film, The Way Back. I’ve always thought he was a phenomenal director and has proven himself time and time again with movies such as Miracle, The Accountant, and, in my opinion, his best work, Warrior. With The Way Back, he jumps back into familiar territory, which is a sports drama.

The Way Back tells the story of Jack Cunningham, a struggling alcoholic who gets offered the head coaching gig for the basketball team at his old high school. The film mainly revolves around Jack and how he deals with everything going on his life, which I believe displays the best parts about the drama aspect. I also think it’s a great basketball film because of how he coaches the team and how he’s able to turn the entire program around for the better. I won’t be digging too much into plot details since I truly feel it needs to be experienced in order to get the most out of it. It will hit a ton of emotions though, and most of the credit has to be given to Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Jack, which is, in many ways, a character study.

This film was a bit close to home for him. Not to dig much into his personal life, but it is widely known he has battled with heavy drinking and alcoholism, along with many other matters. I’m sure he was in familiar territory when it came to shooting certain scenes in this movie. As a viewer, I sometimes felt I was watching Ben Affleck, the man, not the actor portraying someone fictional. This is a very raw and real performance from him and I believe it’s some of his best work yet.

Some scenes in the movie deal a lot with his family, especially his estranged wife, Angela (Janina Gavankar). After realizing what has happened to them, it’s impossible not to feel compassion towards them. Of course, most of these sad revelations aren’t immediately apparent in the movie, but as it progresses, you’ll see why certain things are as they are.

Another dynamic I thoroughly enjoyed is his relationship with the basketball team, including the players, especially Brandon (Brandon Wilson) the assistant coach, Dan (Al Madrigal), and the Chaplain, Father Mark. There are many memorable moments of Jack interacting with the players. He’s sometimes very brutish and, in many ways, harsh with them. But, it’s definitely effective and the results definitely speak for themselves. But, he connects the most with Brandon, who’s mostly quiet, but is able to open up and gain confidence because of Jack’s persistence. As for his relationships with Dan and Mark, they’re mostly there for moral support. It’s actually pretty humorous since Jack has no filter most of the time and Dan and Mark are always trying to get him to calm down and make him realize where he’s at, considering it’s a Catholic school.

The only things I didn’t enjoy as much have to do mostly with the editing between scenes. I feel some of it was rushed and things were resolved far too quickly. I think certain scenes like this need time to marinate, especially with the story that’s trying to be told here. For the most part though, the film is beautifully shot, along with the score, which really adds a certain flare to most of the scenes.

I really enjoyed The Way Back. It’s extremely effective in the story it’s trying to tell. I won’t say it’ll stick with me like Warrior has, but Affleck is incredible in this movie. Although he’s the main reason you should see this, it’s also backed up by great supporting characters which add to the overall story and only elevate Affleck’s performance even more.

Score: A-

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