At first, I wondered why Affleck was the only recognizable name in the cast of The Way Back. Sure, he’s been and will continue to be the lead in plenty of films, but he’s never been in this situation from what I can remember. To be honest, that worried me a bit since I’ve never considered him to be the kind of actor with the ability to carry a film by himself. However, after getting to see what he does here, my views on what he can and can’t do may have been altered.
Ben Affleck stars as Jack Cunningham, a former basketball phenom who suddenly stepped away from the game. Decades later, Jack’s leading a destructive life that’s cost him everything. The old high school that he left behind has also fallen on hard times and is in need of a new head coach. Much to his surprise, they offer him the job. After giving it some thought, he accepts the role and soon believes that he may have finally found a reason to confront his demons and bring value back to his life.
While watching The Way Back, I began to realize that casting Affleck as the only name was done for a reason. Most pictures will have at least an important secondary character that will carry a bit of load and maintain a level of significance, but that doesn’t happen this time around. What we get from the supporting cast is important, but it’s more as a collective unit since we never get a great deal of detail when it comes to them and their individual stories.
This forces the film to rely almost solely on Affleck. In the past, I would have considered this to be a risky move for the actor, but in The Way Back, depending on him proved something to me and probably many others. To put it as simple as possible, this is the Massachusetts native’s best acting performance to date. If enough people see and remember this movie by the end of the year, his work here will be mentioned along with some of the absolute finest performances of 2020.
With this depiction of a man struggling with alcoholism and life in general, he shows more range and genuine emotion than he ever has. Over the course of the movie, he was able to make the person he’s portraying feel authentic. I think that’s what most actors usually strive for in these situations. Doing so only adds to your credibility and highlights a diverse array of skills and a willingness to dig deep within yourself to find the right character.
Based on how these movies usually go, I expected The Way Back to be more upbeat than it actually turned out to be. This isn’t to say that it’s depressing or anything, but it leans toward being a more realistic version of what might happen in these types of situations. In taking this approach to things, you have something that features the ups and downs that you’d find in real life throughout the film.
While I can’t say anything too negative about The Way Back, I felt like there was something missing by the time it reached its conclusion. I thought about it a bit and had a hard time finding it at first, but I think it could have come down to the lack of focus on the supporting characters. Although Affleck’s performance was wonderful, I think the movie could have gone to another level if others received a little bit more of the spotlight.
I say this since the character Affleck portrays may not be an easy character for some people to follow. Although you want him to overcome his obstacles, he’s not the type of person who is able to truly embrace the positives of a potential future. Once again, that’s mostly realistic in a case like this, but I don’t know how many people will be negatively impacted by this. I think focusing a bit more on other characters who were more optimistic at times could have helped.
The Way Back isn’t exactly what I was anticipating, but it’s a film that works and accomplishes most of what it wants to. I think it could have maybe used a little bit more for it to reach amazing heights, but the finished product that we get features an honest depiction of some real-life struggles and deserves some respect as a film. What you feel you get out of it really comes down to what you want from it. If you’re open to receiving something that isn’t just the typical inspirational sports story, it will be hard to find too much wrong with this movie.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby
Charles Lott Jr.
Film Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: March 6, 2020
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
- Score - 7/107/10