Affleck gives solid performance in 'The Way Back'

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Before all the movie theaters across the state were closed down for the coronavirus, I managed to catch one final viewing of “The Way Back”, an emotional and mostly entertaining movie about Ben Affleck and basketball.

Hopefully Hollywood will be able to find a way back when this virus crisis is over. Pun very much intended.

Until then, “The Way Back” is a solid acting performance from Affleck. And if you know his personal story, about his battles with sobriety and rehab, that adds a little oomph to the film. It’s definitely worth a watch if it comes to video-on-demand or a streaming service soon.

In the film, Affleck stars as Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball legend who has grown into a detached, divorced alcoholic. When he’s asked to come back and coach his former team, the thrill of victory and the chance to mentor a group of charming student athletes becomes Jack’s way back from the bottle.

“The Way Back” is a nice combination of Jack’s personal journey and a typical sports film. The basketball team is terrible before Jack gets brought in, and the movie goes through the normal routine of getting the players to believe in themselves and become contenders. This works as well as it does in every other sports movie and helps keep the film moving forward.

But “The Way Back” is not a sports movie. It has the trappings, the characters and the tropes, but the movie is more about Jack, so don’t go in expecting only a sports movie. The film does well by the sports story, but it doesn’t get too deep or rely solely on winning baskets and championship games.

Really, this is all Affleck’s film, from beginning to end. He pulls out a great performance as a somewhat functional alcoholic finding his footing and a new direction in life, and the movie really wants to get the audience in Jack’s corner. Sometimes he does the right thing, sometimes he does the wrong thing; Affleck keeps the audience on his side.

In the past year, Affleck the person opened up about his own alcoholism and his various stints in rehab. He’s been very honest about it. And knowing that about him as a person, it really adds an extra level of emotion to his role as Jack Cunningham. “The Way Back” feels like Affleck working through his own problems through this character and this movie. And knowing he’s getting better both in real life and on screen is really nice.

“The Way Back” probably isn’t going to be long remembered or beloved, but Ben Affleck gives a great performance and there are enough compelling moments to make it worth a watch.

For more review, and for something to listen to while in quarantine, check out the Sentinel Cinema podcast at www.romesentinel.com or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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