Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant
In the 2020 film The Way Back, a former high school basketball star (Ben Affleck) is unexpectedly offered an opportunity to coach for his struggling alma mater. What could be just another film in an overdone premise (think Coach Carter, Hoosiers, or Friday Night Lights), The Way Back stands out as a deeply emotional film buoyed by Affleck’s outstanding work.
Left without a coach, plus having an abysmal record and barely enough players, the Bishop Hayes High basketball team is in a sorry state. Without much hope, the school’s director, Father Edward Devine, reaches out for a helping hand to a former Bishop Hayes phenom, Jack Cunningham. But Jack’s life these days is anything but phenomenal when he reluctantly accepts the job. His drinking habit is so bad, for one, that he is driven home and helped up the stairs every time he visits the local bar, and he imbibes wherever and whenever he can: in the shower, in his car, and while on the construction site where he works.
As the movie unfolds, the audience learns the root causes of Jack’s alcoholism, why his marriage has recently dissolved, and why his basketball career never manifested. There is not one pivotal scene or a single aha moment that divulges all this; rather, the threads are expertly woven throughout the film.
Affleck, whose own struggles with alcohol abuse have been well-documented, gives a credible rendition that offers a depth to Jack that is undeniably authentic and messy. Affleck is the only big-name star in the film, but his performance is matched by the rest of the cast’s. Despite the premise, the film is not another cliché sports movie or one about an addict who is fully recovered by the time the final credits roll. What it is, though, is a story of redemption, both on the court and off.
The Way Back (rated R) is available to reserve for curbside pickup in honor of Alcohol Awareness Month.