Adding to a slew of sports movies is the latest Ben Affleck film, The Way Back. With almost a predictable story – the previous champion returns to his school to face his demons and help a team achieve the glory he once had. But, as far as sports movies go – the movie has a deep departure from the sports movie genre. Yes, there are practices, games and players running drills – but they are an avenue to movie the movie along instead of having viewers watch every second of every game.
Instead, the movie only focuses on the relationships between the players with most games just flashing as scores on the screen, and the relate-able struggles of the coach and the people in his life. While a lot of sports focus on one or two problems the coach may have, it’s a secondary story to the team and their achievements. And while in The Way Back, Coach Jack Cunningham (Affleck) may have almost a trope of an issue, his alcoholism is only the outward symptom of a greater problem.
Despite a slower start to the movie, The Way Back shows a realistic view of what a functioning alcoholic is like. From the amount of alcohol that Jack consumes a day, how often and where – is a scary thing to witness as well as his reliance on it in order to just function. The bizarre behavior is hard to act, except when you have experience in it. And this is where Affleck uses his real life experience and battles with alcoholism to bring this role to life. Due to the realism in the screens, we worried how this role would actually effect the actor since his own battle with addiction has been in the news. It has been reported that during the film, Affleck used a sober liason to bring in to the movie set from rehab. He used his current pain and battles to bring a more realistic portrayal to the screen.
Throughout the movie, and even in the scenes where the alcoholism is front and center the audience often was filled with laughter. While possibly, this was nervous laughter, the actual laughter made the scenes even worse. If you have ever experienced dealing with addiction or are close to anyone who has, these moments will make you feel uncomfortable and may be more of an emotional trigger than you expected.
The young actors who are playing the team players, while secondary focus in the film all bring strong performances for their roles. From the stereotypical Casanova type of player, to ones that need the push forward. None of their performances were over worked or forced and they are relate-able to teens you may have in your life.
While the movie is a sports movie, it’s not the same story we’ve seen over and over before. The emotional arch throughout the movie will have you on an emotional roller-coaster, and while it had a lot of sad moments you will find yourself laughing as well. Instead of a traditional underdog story, The Way Back uses the sport as the vehicle to drive an emotional story along.
The Way Back is in theaters everywhere on March 6th, and brings a different approach to sports movies to the screen. While we were ready to go in and see a sports movie that you would expect, it came to the theater with a lot more heart and story that we expected. Over all, The Way Back brings a different type of sports movie to the screen and the realistic pain is felt throughout.
About THE WAY BACK:
Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) once had a life filled with promise. In high school, he was a basketball phenom with a full ride to college, when suddenly, for reasons unknown, he walked away from the game, forfeiting his future. Now years later, Jack is stuck in a meaningless job and drowning in the alcoholism that cost him his marriage and any hope for a better life. When he is asked to coach the basketball team at his alma mater, which has fallen far since his glory days, he reluctantly accepts, surprising no one more than himself. As the boys start to come together as a team and win, Jack may have finally found a reason to confront the demons that have derailed him. But will it be enough to fill the void, heal the deep wounds of his past, and set him on the road to redemption? Starring Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, Hayes MacArthur, Brandon Wilson, Rachael Carpani. Directed by Gavin O’Connor.
This film is rated R.