Movie Review: The Way Back

Ben Affleck delivers an excellent performance as Jack Cunningham, a hard-drinking former basketball star who reluctantly accepts the position of head coach at his alma mater.

As the storyline unfolds, we learn that Jack walked away from a full sports scholarship and hasn’t picked up a basketball in almost 25 years. His life has settled into a predictable routine: days at a construction job followed by evenings at Harold’s Bar and more alcohol at home. He is so dependent that he even brings a can of beer into the shower.

As soon as Jack accepts the coaching position, he becomes involved in the lives of the players and succeeds in motivating the underdog squad of ten players. A winning streak follows with impressively choreographed basketball scenes.

Jack still drinks too much, and his short-fuse temper is easily triggered during tense moments. Despite reprimands from the team chaplain, Jack can’t control his constant use of profanities.

Viewed as a savior, Jack appears to be well on the road to redemption. Until life—in the form of resurrected past demons—rears its ugly head. What follows is backtracking, a major disappointment, and an accident.

A longtime fan of sports movies, I fully expected Jack to take the team to the final championship game. Instead, co-writer and director Gavin O’Connor chose a different trajectory for Jack Cunningham, one that is a better “fit” for the imperfect coach struggling to overcome past mistakes and insecurities.

A thought-provoking film!


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