Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) was a 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.
What with his own much publicized battle with alcoholism, it’s impossible to separate Ben Affleck from Cunningham. The actor gives the performance of a lifetime as he’s keenly aware of the journey his character is on and it shows in the lived-in nature of his performance. He is drawn, heavy, walking like a man condemned throughout, unafraid to show how out of control and ugly one becomes when this sort of self-destruction behavior takes hold. This is a brave performance, one tinged with a sense of realism that is, at times so revealing, it’s uncomfortable to witness. Affleck embraces the truth about his character and himself, fearlessly showing the depths he has fallen into but never in a self-serving way. He is providing a service to all that suffer as he does, putting himself forth as a cautionary tale to be heeded and he’s never been more sympathetic or likable as a result.
There’s a sense of grace about “The Way Back” that makes it exceptional. In clumsier hands, this could have been a maudlin, melodramatic film. Instead, its focus is on small, intimate victories, those that go unnoticed by the masses, those that come one day at a time, with no guarantee that tomorrow will yield the same result. It and Affleck’s honesty demand our attention; to witness this work is the least the viewer can do.