This review is brought to you by Kathy Kaiser
“Affleck is superb in a film that not only focuses on “the love of the game”, but on one man’s struggle to save himself, from the many poor choices he’s made …” Kathy Kaiser, Matinee Chat
THE WAY BACK – Rated R – 1 hr. 48 mins.
DIRECTOR/WRITER: Gavin O’Connor
WRITER: Brad Ingelsby
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Michaela Watkins, Al Madrigal, Da’Vinchi, Glynn Turman, Melvin Gregg, Lukas Gage, Will Ropp, Charles Lott Jr., Sal Valez Jr., Brandon Wilson, Tyler O’Malley, Hayes MacArthur, Roman Mathis and Chris Bruno
When your name is Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), and you start out life as a Basketball phenom in High School, the rest of your life should be golden right? Well, when you decide that that isn’t the path for you, and as life seems to send you blow, after blow, after blow, that you weren’t prepared for, you become a loner, with alcohol as your best friend, or at least just a way, to pass the time away…
But when Jack gets the chance to go back to his alma mater to Coach a, shall we say, “less than stellar team”, this familiar scenery, combined with quite a few very coachable young men, might be just the ticket to force Jack’s life, back on track…
I give THE WAY BACK a rating of MUST SEE ON THE BIG SCREEN! Affleck is perfectly cast as a man struggling with his own demons, as he tries to ease the pain that is consuming his life, one drink at a time. His performance is so real ~ and so raw ~ you can actually see that he is channeling real emotions, and life experiences, having he himself just come out of rehab.
I’m amazed and astonished that Affleck wanted to take on such a role, especially after having just faced this actual demon himself in real life. I had to chuckle at the interviews he’s been doing too about this film, as he concedes that he’s not wanting any accolades for his performance, as he attests that has is by far not the first actor by any means, who has chosen a role that forces you to face issues within your own life. But to his defense, I also don’t know too many people, including myself, that would have the power to take on a role so close to home, and be willing to put it all out there on screen, just for the love of acting!
I also very much enjoyed the performances on screen by Gavankar as Jack’s estranged wife, and by Watkins too, as the supportive, yet meddling sister. These two ladies’ performances opposite Affleck, made this storyline even more believable, and heart-wrenching.
And how can you give a review about this film, without sending all the accolades in every direction that are due to all the fabulous young men cast in this film, as their superb performances add the elements of focus and determination, that Affleck’s character seems to be lacking throughout a significant part of the film.
I also must share that I was amazed that as much as this film is promoted as a sports film, that is only a portion of what is happening on screen, as THE WAY BACK also takes you deep into a man’s life, as he struggles to find the courage to face his own imperfections, thus adding a lot more dimension than I think people are expecting to see. Director and Writer Gavin O’Connor’s creative genius is definitely on full display, throughout this exceptional film.
Suffice to say that THE WAY BACK is the kind of film that everyone should experience, but with the subject matter, and the R-rating it has received, sadly, that won’t be possible. I’m also hoping that Affleck’s superb performance in this film isn’t forgotten about come Awards season, many months from now, as he truly is once again, on top of his game!
The Way Back Review
This review is brought to you by Krissy Rechtlich
ONWARD – RATED R – 1 hour 48 minutes
DIRECTOR: Gavin O’Connor
WRITERS: Brad Ingelsby & Gavin O’Connor
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, and Michaela Watkins
The film starts with Jack (Ben Affleck), a construction worker, ending a long day of work. He opens a beer in his car, pours it into a cup, and drinks it while driving home. As he takes a shower, he has a beer in the caddy. Before he meets with his family, he chugs a bottle of hard vodka in the car, and then again afterwards. Viewers are introduced to an alcoholic and, seeing as Affleck recently left rehab, it makes the plotline already the more authentic and powerful.
Once-acclaimed high school basketball player, Jack Cunningham, who now spends his nights in bars, is offered the chance to coach his high school’s basketball team. Jack is an alcoholic with a temper and the teenagers are unmotivated and directionless. While basketball is, of course, a very prevalent theme in this film, this is not the focus. This is not a movie about a down-and-out basketball team turning it around at the hands of an amazing coach. This is a movie about how difficult life can be. Motivating, realistic, and tragic, Affleck’s hopeless portrayal of Jack has you waiting and rooting for the moment it will all turn around. Only to find out that it doesn’t – because life isn’t that kind.
What I enjoyed most about this film is that information was not spoon fed to the audience. You are not given this man’s life story at the forefront; you are presented with a man who has lost the will to move forward without there being any reason why. While most tragic films regarding death and cancer focus on the before, this is the aftermath. What becomes of a parent who loses their child to cancer? Depression and chaos.
This film was not cast in high-end cinematography and the theme definitely matched what they were going for. The dull, cell-phone-quality camerawork mirrored Affleck’s bleak outlook on life and the editing of the basketball games was very well done. Slices of life from the players, the coaches, and audiences existed of quick, clever cuts and were very entertaining. I could not help but burst out laughing at the thought of a catholic school basketball coach getting kicked out of the game for screaming profanities.
My main complaint with this film was the miracle montage that was relatively underwhelming. Of course, O’Connor couldn’t go through every single game as the team gradually improved or the film would be two hours long. That being said, the team started with an alcoholic captain, who was almost just as unmotivated as they were, and three minutes later, the team has tremendously improved. I’ve seen many a montage in my time and this wasn’t one of the stronger ones.
Overall, I would give this film a 8/10.
It’s a rather melancholy film to see on the big screen; however, it is very inspiring and well shot. An underrated film in the making.