Inspirational sports films are a dime a dozen.
From "Field of Dreams" to "Remember the Titans," there is a seemingly endless supply of classic sports movies to choose from. This never-ending list of films makes it difficult to stand out in the genre. For every great sports movie, there's a million more that fail to find an audience.
When the first trailer for "The Way Back," starring Ben Affleck, was released, I found myself optimistic about the film. Directed by Gavin O'Connor ("Miracle," "Warrior" and "The Accountant"), it tells the story of a struggling alcoholic named Jack who reluctantly takes the head coach position for his old high school's basketball team. Considering O’Connor and Affleck’s previous works together, and Affleck’s own recent struggles with alcoholism, “The Way Back” certainly had the potential to be a raw and emotional experience.
Despite its potential, there was still a part of me that was apprehensive about the film, simply because so many films like this end up being entirely forgettable.
I am glad to say “The Way Back” is one of the best films of its genre that I’ve seen in a while.
The film not only provides an emotional experience through showcasing the difficult events in Jack's life, it builds beyond that and portrays all of its characters and events with extreme nuance and care. Save for maybe a coach on an opposing basketball team, every single character in the film is incredibly dynamic. They all have their own fleshed-out motivations and perspectives on life. Everybody has flaws and the film isn’t afraid to explore the ugly side of that.
As far as the sports aspect of the film is concerned, it actually made me care about basketball. As someone that didn’t even know who the Nebraska basketball head coach is, I found myself actively resisting the urge to yell at the screen during the basketball game scenes. The failures of the central team will frustrate the hell out of audiences, and when the team is successful you’ll have to resist jumping up and pumping your fist into the air.
As the coach of this team, Affleck provides not only one of the best performances of 2020 so far, but arguably one of his best and most personal performances to date.
Affleck shot this film almost immediately after he got out of rehab for his own alcoholism. That made the film and its contents hit extremely close to home for Affleck. Reportedly, Affleck even broke down on set while filming one of the movie’s more emotional sequences.
The personal connection to this character and his struggles really shine through in Affleck’s performance. Throughout most of the film, Affleck is pouring his heart and soul into this character. He digs deep and isn’t afraid to let his own personal experiences drive him, the result of which is a jaw-dropping and heartbreaking performance that will shake audiences to their core. Affleck becomes this character; he takes on every painful aspect and portrays them with brutal realism. Even if you’re not interested in basketball or sports, Affleck’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
There’s no way around it; “The Way Back” is fantastic.
From the thrilling basketball sequences, to the brutally honest depiction of alcoholism, to the stellar performance by Affleck, everything about “The Way Back” is excellent. It’s a film that I would recommend to anybody, even if they’re not remotely a fan of sports. It’s a human story about the myriad life challenges and the dedication required to overcome them. I loved “The Way Back,” and I think a lot of other people will too.