THE WAY BACK is a movie you’ve seen a billion times. Alcoholic/depression/enter drug here to find his way back from rock bottom movie combined with bad sports team that comes together to be greater movie. Throw in a couple of twists of when exactly protagonist hits rock bottom and when exactly the big game the team has to win in the movie for their cinematic journey to be complete and you get this film in a nutshell. The only reason why I am recommending this movie to be something of an eventual one time watch, must see, is Ben Affleck’s best performance of his career. That’s right, Ben Affleck, who most of the time, unless he’s written and directed the movie (and a few other exceptions), looks like he is coasting through the movie with a phoned in performance, is utterly fantastic here. Probably because this movie was ultimately really cathartic for him in that he just got out of a really rock bottom period in his life where he’s admitted to having a huge drinking problem and having to go to rehab several times to try and get through it. So I guess you can say maybe it is his best performance because he had the most disposal to research he’s ever had? Whatever it is, he’s great in the movie. And while I give it a slight recommendation, it is only because I was fascinated with his character, and not so much the kids in the basketball team, which should’ve been direct second fiddle story wise, but ends up as just a background C (maybe even D)plot that manages to stick its head out every once in awhile and yell out, “remember me?!?!?”
And I’m glad the film subverted expectations and didn’t really focus on the kids all that much, like other movies do, where it eventually loses focus of the lead protagonist coach and quickly wraps up his story only at the very end (see every team sports film ever made), but in doing so the movie felt a bit, incomplete? Minor complaint, as if it did end up doing that I’d probably be ripping this film a new one for not being unique. Just something felt a little off, in that I didn’t know ANY of the kids’ characters’s name except one, and I had to constantly repeat his name in my head so that I would forget. What is the story? A mid life guy who is an extreme alcoholic and just seems to be coasting through life gets offered a job as coach at his old high school basketball team where he was once one of the greatest players of the game. He has a sister and separated wife worried about him and always asking questions about what he’s doing, but he doesn’t seem to care all that much and really just wants to be alone, soaking in his pain. Yet he takes the job and he starts to get better…but as you know, it is just a ticking time bomb for one thing to go wrong and he’s falling off the wagon again. Can he overcome his demons and get better? Now I’ve heard a couple of critics said that they wish Ben Affleck’s character just drank because he was depressed, and not the specific reason they give him in the film. They just wanted him to drink and be an alcoholic, because he just was one. I don’t know if that necessarily would’ve worked. They do eventually reveal the reason, and while the reason was sort of what I was expecting but not really (you’ll see and you’ll probably figure out in other way the same sort of reason could’ve been presented), I don’t think the film would’ve worked as well without it. Even though the reason is cliched, no reason just makes the film feel…again…incomplete.
This is another review that will end up being short because there is really not much else to talk about the film without really getting into spoilers. I can’t really talk about the other acting, because none of the characters were memorable enough or had enough screen time to warrant talking about (the woman playing the ex wife did well but she’s barely in it), but I can say that everyone else does a good job. The movie is shot really well by director Gavin O’Connor, who has directed some films I’ve really enjoyed such as Warrior, The Accountant, and yet another sports team drama, Miracle. It is shot with a gritty like feel, making it all seem like you could’ve seen this film in theaters in the mid 90s. It is basically a mid 90s sports character drama. If you go into that expecting nothing more yet nothing less, you will come out quite surprised. And if you feel sorry for Ben Affleck or like him as a person or whatever, he will definitely surprise you with his performance. It’s pretty real. It won’t get him nominated or win any awards, but maybe, just maybe it could be cathartic enough for him to want to get out there and start writing and directing again. We’ve gotten Good Will Hunting, Gone, Baby, Gone, Argo, The Town, and while not many other people like it, Live By Night, writing and/or directed wise from Affleck, and he’s not that old, maybe we could get a couple of more great films from him. Maybe when a couple of more awards technical awards. And I guess it would be fine if he acted in his films too, as long as he brings the same kind of passion he did in The Way Back.