The Way Back Review
"The Way Back" is the best sports movie I've seen in a long time. It's not the sports movie you think it is. It's amazing to me how its a movie that follows all of the cliches of a typical sports movie, while also rolling them all up into a trash ball and throwing them into the garbage can.
Ben Affleck plays Jack Cummings. A former basketball star who has now turned himself into a washed-up drunk. (What a twist, huh?) He gets offered to coach his old high school's basketball team because something bad happened to the former coach. The team is showing signs of not getting along well (big surprise there, huh?) and...you guessed it, they have a losing record. So Cummings whips them into shape using tactics they aren't used to. Cummings also goes from not really caring to caring too much.
Does all of that sound familiar? It certainly plays that way...to a degree. If you walk into this expecting it all to play out exactly the way I wrote it, you may or may not like the full result. The basketball really isn't the point of the movie. This is a sports movie where the sports is the window dressing. I don't even know if I'm comfortable even selling this as a sports movie. The movie really about the life and times of Jack Cummings. There is a reason why he's washed-up, there's a reason why he is drinking alcohol at an alarming rate each scene. There is a reason why he's isolated himself from his friends and family. There is also a reason this unsuspecting basketball team wins him over and gives him some salvation.
It seemed like Ben Affleck did some real soul-searching of his own while playing this part. If you have paid any sort of attention to his life recently, I am sure he was basically playing himself in moments of this movie. It's a blisteringly laser-focused performance by Affleck. It shows that a performer can change at a moments notice and further affirms that anybody who doubted him as Batman was way wrong. You can almost feel the pain this man carries around from scene to scene. It's exquisite work on Affleck's part. While there are other players in the movie, this is basically his character's journey and basically how he bounces off of people in his life.
It truly isn't the movie you think it is, its not just a sports movie. It's about redemption. It's about how we bare our souls to become better people. It's about facing the pain before that pain can become suffering. It's a victory lap for one of the most underappreciated actors working right now. So take the time and check it out.
FINAL GRADE: B+