Predictable but still solid as a whole. The Way Back brings us a movie that you could argue being the best movie of 2020 so far. That isn’t saying much though since our moviegoing experience has been cut short for the time being. I remember seeing a trailer for this movie a while ago, but I honestly just forgot about its existence up until it arrived on digital a few weeks ago. I finally got around to watching it and I was genuinely pretty excited to give it a shot as it involved both basketball and Ben Affleck, two things I enjoy watching. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the reteam of Affleck and director Gavin O’Connor gave me a lot of hope.
The Way Back is very literal with its title especially when you realize what the movie is about. It gives a main character in Jack played by Affleck who is divorced and lost his son to cancer some time ago, I assumed over a year, but I can’t remember if that was clear or not. He has also turned to being an alcoholic. He is then recruited by his old high school to become their basketball coach. The team is terrible and has been terrible since Jack graduated.
So I said that the movie title was very literal which it is, but if you haven’t figured it out yet then I’ll just say that this movie is also very predictable. The Way Back is essentially the story of Jack healing as a person after everything that he has been through and not necessarily the way you expect it to happen either. At the same time we see this group of kids on the basketball team make their way back to the playoffs for the first time since Jack played there.
If you weren’t sure if there was a lot of depth to this movie, there really isn’t. What I just explained is essentially the whole movie and it may sound like I’m putting this movie down some, but I’m not. The movie isn’t anything different than what you’ve seen before, but it is a solid movie to watch. Even though I was expecting everything that happened to happen, it was still a compelling and engaging story to watch especially with Affleck in the lead.
Speaking of Affleck, this movie really feels like some kind of passion project for him and more of a role that connects with him personally. I don’t want to go too much into his history or rumors or anything like that, but I will just say that I have heard of him actually having some alcoholism issues in his life. I think that because of that, the movie isn’t just another role for him, but one he was able to genuinely connect with. There’s nothing wrong with that either and I think actually helped pull a great performance out of him.
It wasn’t the best performance by him, but if not for him in the lead I think this movie would’ve been more of a movie that you would ignore and completely forget about. It’s enough to say that this movie probably wouldn’t have gone noticed at all if not for Affleck in the role because even by the trailers it seems like your generic kind of sports movie. Thankfully though we got to see him in his first role since playing Batman in Justice League. I guess I should count the Jay and Silent Bob movie, but that was a small bit and not a wide release or Triple Frontier, but that one is a Netflix movie so not on the big screens either. I also forget that he was in Triple Frontier.
Outside of Affleck though, the real draw to this movie for me was with the director Gavin O’Connor who previously directed Affleck in The Accountant and also directed the underrated film Warrior prior to that. Ever since I saw Warrior I was a huge fan of his and The Accountant didn’t let me down either, but this movie was a bit of a step back in comparison to his other work. I don’t think he did a bad job, but again a lot of it came down to story. The story felt familiar and the directing didn’t stand out as much either.
I bring up the story a lot with this movie and it’s true that I think the root of the problems for this movie stem right back to the story being the biggest issue. There were many times when we see Jack drinking to get across that he’s an alcoholic and then it’s repeated again and again and again. By the third time I was over the repetitive nature. It only took me one time for me to understand that yes he has a drinking problem so I could’ve done without the excessiveness of getting that point across.
The ending was also a major issue I had with the movie. So everything with the movie is going great up until the third act starts and of course the predictable plot line happens where SPOILER ALERT he goes back to drinking after quitting and of course it’s right before the playoffs and of course he gets fired, but I actually had to check the time on the movie after he got fired. When I did I realized there really wasn’t much movie left and I was getting worried. The finale is all wrapped up in under ten minutes with Jack and the team going to the playoffs, but it just cuts itself short so I’m not sure what the though was going into that, but I was overall disappointed by the end.
My highest point of love for this movie was around the middle point where we start to see the team thriving off of Jack as a coach as he’s starting to come around to his role and getting serious about it. We also get to see a few games where the game itself is played out rather than recapped or just shown the score and in those moments we really get to see the emotion of the game and Jack as a coach. It’s in these moments that I though Affleck was at his best, but we just didn’t get enough of the game itself. This is a movie about his character, but I feel just as the movie was getting good it veered off to just make it an emotional tragedy rather than continue with it being just a genuine feel good movie without any predictable plot twists.
Given that this movie is available on digital already and many of us are stuck inside unfortunately, I will go ahead and recommend this to you only for the fact that it is an entertaining movie. It’s a movie that I think many of you will get joy out of, but at the same time I don’t want anyone to expect too much out of it. It’s predictable and familiar, but in the end it still is a solid movie. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!