Jack Cunningham was an HS basketball phenom who walked away from the game, forfeiting his future. Years later, when he reluctantly accepts a coaching job at his alma mater, he may get one last shot at redemption.
‘The Way Back’ (or ‘Finding the Way Back’ as it’s been called in the UK) is a sports drama about an alcoholic construction worker who returns to his old high school to coach their struggling basketball team. It’s a film that struggles to shake off the feeling that we’ve seen this movie many times before although it does have a leading performance from Ben Affleck that’s as good as anything he’s done for a number of years, and for that alone I did find this to be an enjoyable watch.
Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a former star basketball player who is stuck in a rut, separated from his wife and struggling with alcoholism. His drinking is pushing away any friends and family he has left, so the opportunity to rediscover his love and passion for basketball comes at an ideal time for him. This second chance is grasped by Jack and his experiences help him to connect with the young players and to channel his demons into something he’s passionate about, however his addiction struggles persist and there’s always a feeling that it won’t take much for him to relapse. This is a very formulaic film about addiction and redemption and it’s credit to Affleck that I felt so invested in Jack’s journey, overcoming a slight plot that hits every beat you expect it too. Director Gavin O’Connor previously helmed the outstanding ‘Warrior’, another sports drama about wounded individuals, and whilst ‘The Way Back’ lacks the punch that film did, it’s a compelling watch primarily due to Affleck.
‘The Way Back’ is Ben Affleck’s best work in years, even if the film around his performance isn’t strong enough to break off the shackles off its familiar story.
Directed By: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Javina Gavankar, Glynn Turman and Dan Lauria