HOLLYWOOD─This movie has been touted as a comeback performance for actor Ben Affleck, who hasn’t really had a box-office hit or critical darling in quite some time. The drama “The Way Back” puts Affleck in the spotlight and in a way that takes a page directly from his personal life. You’re going to walk into the theater having some ideas of where things will head with this movie.
Affleck portrays Jack Cunningham, a man who is facing some inner demons. Jack is an alcoholic and he has been struggling to stay on the wagon. He is what I would call a high-functioning alcoholic. He knows how to do the everyday things in life, while secretly (if you call it) consuming alcohol to keep himself pushing thru. His marriage to his wife crumbled, he doesn’t have the best relationship with his family, especially his sister who is worried about his isolation and drinking.
Jack tries valiantly to cover his tracks, but those who know him who what he’s doing. I mean when you’re drinking a beer in the early morning hours in the shower, you have a problem people. What is enjoyable about “The Way Back” is that it’s a slow burn in terms of drama. We don’t see the typical alcohol tale. We know our protagonist has a problem; we seem him slightly on the mend after getting an opportunity to coach a failing basketball team. Jack is given the opportunity to impact lives of young athletes with his knowledge and wisdom, and it takes his mind off drowning his sorrows.
Would I call this movie a bonafide sports flick? No. That is not something I can push to audiences because while sports is an element of the movie, it’s not the crucial element of the narrative in my personal opinion. It’s a plot point, but I found this movie to be more of a character study about how someone grapples with their inner demons, that psychological battle between doing what is right and knowing what is wrong and the consequences we face as a result of making the wrong choice.
He begins to see purpose in his life coaching these teens and as a result it forces him to acknowledge that he has an issue, but it’s not until he is forced to face his past that his addiction takes full control of his life forcing him to finally confront his alcoholism head-on. Affleck delivers a stellar performance which could be a direct result of the actor channeling his real-life issues with alcohol abuse and multiple trips to rehab to address the problem head-on.
I will admit the movie got a bit slow near the third act, and I’m not certain if that was a direct result of not knowing how to reach the climax without forcing it to appear out of the norm, but it doesn’t take a ton away from the movie’s impact. “The Way Back” is not just a good movie because it is entertaining, but it forces one to open his or her eyes about the complications of addiction. It may seem easy to just fight something as so many of us not walking in that person’s shoes thinks, but you’re always going to have temptation surrounding you. This movie teaches us how to respond to that.