Who doesn’t love a good basketball movie during March Madness? Think Hoosiers except darker! The Way Back is more about alcoholism than basketball, more honest in its display, yet yields hope. The film is not a true story, rather parallels Ben Affleck‘s struggles with alcohol. The blackness of the disease, the depths of despair, and the triggering events are all well depicted. And Jack Cunningham admits he made lots of bad decisions, some merely to hurt others, some for more personal reasons. Through it all, basketball shows him The Way Back, if he can only dunk his demons. Not always pleasant to watch, I still give it 4 Gavels and it receives an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating with an 89% Audience score.
Offered a full scholarship to Kansas, why hasn’t Jack picked up a basketball since high school? Separated from his wife for one year, what happened to this “perfect” couple? Given a chance to coach a lousy team, will Jack be able to abide by the no-alcohol policy? Has basketball passed him by; rather, has life passed him by?
As Jack Cunningham, Ben Affleck shows he may be the most underappreciated actor of his generation. Granted, spending most of the movie in an alcoholic stupor doesn’t yield much range, but lots of Oscars are won with that character-type. Al Madrigal (Night School) is wonderful as the math teacher/assistant coach who knows little of the sport. Worth watching is Janina Gavankar who plays Cunningham’s estranged wife. It’s a small part and she makes the most of it.
Before you rush right out and take your middle school basketball players to this flick, note that The Way Back is rated-R, with lots of swear words. The priest constantly reminds all that the Catholic school has a code of conduct. Most admit they are works in progress. Made on a budget of $21-25 million, this one has the markings of success, witness a full house on a sunny Saturday afternoon. For those critics who contend The Way Back is formulaic, the illness, and the response to it, is not sugar-coated. Ben Affleck put his heart and soul into this one and it shows. Kudos to him! Unlike many “sports” movies, this one won’t disappoint.