REVIEW: ‘The Way Back’ is enjoyable for fans of sports and cinema

Ben Affleck’s movie goes for the three point shot, at the buzzer, and… It’s not too bad.

While “The Way Back” prominently features basketball, it’s less a sports movie about basketball and much more about a man trying to pick up the pieces of his life. The movie follows Jack, a construction worker who was at one point an excellent basketball player in high school with a full ride to join the University of Kansas Jayhawks program.

His path in life took a different direction, though. The movie picks up with Jack now suffering from alcoholism after experiencing a personal hardship. He’s given a chance at escapism, though, when he’s hired by his high school to coach the basketball team midseason. Despite not having the best players, Jack’s coaching is effective and he’s able to help the team find success. Unfortunately, he still deals with drinking too much.

“The Way Back” is a very classic tale of redemption, so classic that its predictability somewhat hurts it. There are plot points in the first, second and third acts that one can see coming and correctly guess what’s going to happen next.

Whether it’s the outcome of one of the basketball games or the impacts of Jack’s alcoholism, audiences can pick up rather quickly on what’s happening. It’s clearly the film’s greatest weakness.

With all of that said, though, despite the picture being predictable, the execution in rolling out the story is pretty solid. The creative team of director/writer Gavin O’Connor and co-writer Brad Ingelsby deliver when it comes to making the movie heartfelt, passionate and engaging.

BEN AFFLECK - Jack Cunningham
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Jack’s struggle through the current period of his life is compelling, especially as he begins to connect with the players. Watching the situation unfold, even with having a clue as to how things may go, is fairly enjoyable.

One thing really helping “The Way Back” is Affleck’s performance. He’s very convincing here, believable as a person who is truly good at his job, but has a clear underlying problem.

At times tragic and at others inspiring, Affleck walks the line with the character very well, portraying both aspects nicely.

Unfortunately, one area where “The Way Back” is lacking is in its supporting characters, more specifically, the team being coached. Unlike some other sports movies, there aren’t as many memorable characters on the team. It’s understandable that this film was more about focusing on Affleck’s character, but the movie is still lacking in that regard.

Overall, though, this one is an alright flick. The film has enough entertainment value in the basketball scenes, Affleck’s performance is strong and there are some good emotional moments. It has its fair share of issues, so it comes in at about the middle with a 3.4 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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