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The Way Back Movie Review

It’s time for another movie review presented by our good friends over at FatCats Gilbert and FatCats Mesa. To see all showtimes for their movie theaters featuring reclining seats, you can click right HERE!

Ben Affleck and Michaela Watkins in The Way Back (2020)

It has been a little bit under four years since the last Gavin O’Connor movie which is a little bit under four years too long, if you ask me. I adore Gavin O’Connor. I’m not saying that I love every movie he’s made, and I’m not necessarily saying he’s a candidate for best working director, but I usually love what he brings to the table. I grew up loving sports movies, and Miracle is one of the reasons for that. O’Connor also directed Warrior, which was probably one of my ten favorite movies from the 2010s. I love Warrior, and it gets me emotionally the way few movies ever have. I also have a special place in my heart for The Accountant, and if O’Connor gets to work on half the projects he’s rumored to be on board for, his stock is only going up. I was also psyched to see him return to the sports genre with Ben Affleck, his trusty lead in The Accountant.

Ben Affleck and Janina Gavankar in The Way Back (2020)

The Way Back is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Ben Affleck as Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star whose life has been on a steep and steady decline since his days as a high school hero. Disconnected from his family and connected to alcohol, he’s offered the chance to come back to his school to coach the new team of untalented misfits.

Ben Affleck in The Way Back (2020)

Am I crazy for thinking that Ben Affleck is one of the most underrated actors in the entire industry? I feel like he’s the butt of a lot of jokes going all the way back to his credit for writing Good Will Hunting, but he’s really an incredible actor. I hate to call movies trash because real people with real ideas make them, but Affleck has made a lot of trash in his days. I’m looking at you, Gigli. He has also made a lot of great movies, and that seems to be forgotten. The Way Back is another hit (swish?) for Affleck and Gavin O’Connor. I really liked this movie, and it might be the best I’ve seen Affleck in his entire career. It might be because this story is so personal for him, which he has openly discussed, but he embodies every aspect of his real, well-fleshed out character perfectly. I love flawed characters, and The Way Back centers itself around a character who has a dictionary full of flaws. In fact, I don’t even think Jack is a good person. That said, I completely understood him. All of his choices made sense, which made it even more difficult and devastating to watch him put himself through the shredder in this story. It gets progressively tougher the more the movie decides to tell us about Jack, which I loved. It has some narrative pacing issues, but the way it paces character development had me hooked the entire time.

Ben Affleck in The Way Back (2020)

All because of the character work, The Way Back shook me emotionally, and a lot of that is due to Affleck’s performance, though O’Connor also plays a big role as the director and co-writer. I always like to say that the best thing a movie can do is make me care, and this movie makes me care so much. I always felt connected to the story and the characters, and I don’t just mean Affleck’s character. Every interaction seems to have a purpose and affects the characters and the story with both drama and comedy. The comedy genuinely surprised me. I didn’t expect The Way Back to be as funny as it was given that it was tackled alcoholism and self destruction in such an effective way, but the comedy worked beautifully because of the way it addresses character dynamics. It also doesn’t shy away from that ugliness of alcoholism and the effects it can have on a person. While Jack becomes the support system the basketball team needs, he struggles to find the support system for himself, but it also doesn’t make finding that support seem easy. Could those around him do more to help him as a person? Maybe, but it’s also a personal journey, and he has to accept that help. It’s tough, and while I don’t condone his actions in a good chunk of the movie, I understood why drinking the problems away was the easiest answer.

Ben Affleck in The Way Back (2020)

Though I really like The Way Back, it’s not perfect, as no movie is. I think it has some clear pacing issues, and it does fall back on a few ideas we’ve seen from sports movies so often. Those ideas are generally just crowd pleasing moments in an underdog story, but it is still nice to feel like anything can happen at any time. I did feel that anything could happen at any time with Affleck’s character individually, which nearly neutralized the problem, but it doesn’t quite make every moment work for me. I also think there are a few story beats that feel a little bit out of place in the context of the story. I actually liked what they did for Affleck’s character, but they did throw the story off a bit.

Ben Affleck in The Way Back (2020)

Overall, The Way Back is another really strong movie from Gavin O’Connor, and I’m glad he came back to the sports genre with a hit. He really seems to know how to bring emotion out through characters, especially in an underdog tale. This is also the best I’ve seen Ben Affleck, possibly in his entire career. Seeing how open Affleck has been about his real-life parallels with Jack Cunningham really allows us to see how he’s able to break this character down. This is a complete deconstruction and dissection of a person who has faced tragedy and difficulty and taken both to heart. Seeing how he handles these situations is devastating, and while Jack might teeter toward an unlikable character, I understand him. The movie is funnier than I expected it to be, and I thought O’Connor did a great job with the basketball scenes, just like he did with the hockey scenes in Miracle and the fighting scenes in Warrior. The story isn’t quite as tight as I hoped for, but O’Connor and Affleck pull it all together through characters. I’m going to give The Way Back an 8/10.

Ben Affleck and Tyler O'Malley in The Way Back (2020)

Will you be seeing The Way Back? Comment down in the comment section to let me know! As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse.

Justin Lyons

Hey, it's Justin Lyons! I am the Chief Film Critic for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at [email protected]