Slept On Movie Saturday: The Way Back

Sometimes we all just need a weekend spent horizontal on the couch doing nothing but consuming. Or as I tell myself, it’s not lazy if you write about it!

I spent the morning scrolling through HBO Max looking for something familiar. I tend to watch movies for the first time at night, mostly because there’s an unavoidable glare on my TV during the daytime and I’d prefer to watch new stuff in the best setting possible. Daytime for me is often spent on watching movies or shows I’m already familiar with or sports. It may feel weird but remember, you’re reading MY blog.

Anywho, I stumbled across a movie I’ve seen a handful of times since it came out in 2020 and figured I’d give it another go. The Way Back, a film about an alcoholic construction worker (Ben Affleck) called upon to coach his alma mater’s high school basketball team, is probably one of the better sports movies to come out in the last decade or so and I’d say is probably the best basketball film since Coach Carter in 2005. Sure, there’s plenty of great docs like The Last Dance, Last Chance U, or a number of the 30 for 30 films, but as far as non-documentaries go this is a pretty great hoops flick.

The story focuses more on the self-destructive nature of Jack Cunningham (Affleck) than the actual basketball itself but it’s one of the best performances of his career and seeing him scream and curse at referees and his players to the shock of the team chaplain is nonetheless entertaining. The actual games and practices are very well shot and at no point feels overly Hollywood. But its the off the court stuff that carries this one. Jack is a character who has gone through a whole lot and despite his kamikaze nature the audience can’t help but root for him. It’s also interesting to see the parallel’s between this character and Ben Affleck’s personal life as his struggle with alcoholism has been well documented but I feel that it gives a sense of legitimacy that really shines through as some of his best work.

The film comes from director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle) and also stars Al Madrigal (The Daily Show), Michaela Watkins (Saturday Night Live), Janina Gavankar (The Morning Show), and character actor John Aylward (ER) but this is Affleck’s show. I do wish we got to spend more time with the team and its players as we really only get to know Brandon (Brandon Wilson), the team’s point guard who Jack sees a lot of himself in, and Kenny (Will Ropp), a smack-talking ladies man who provides the bulk of the film’s comedic relief. While it’s a great weekend watch, especially with March Madness coming up, it’s not exactly the best wake up and feel good kind of movie. There’s a good amount of heavy content in here that has nothing to do with basketball. But as a fan of Ben Affleck, I think this is some of his best acting to date and would recommend any fan of his give this a shot.

The film received generally positive reviews when it came out in theaters, mostly praising Affleck’s performance, and it currently holds a (what I feel is low) 6.7 on IMDb. The film never stood much of a chance at the box office as it premiered in March of 2020 but part of that may play into why more people don’t know about this film. Given the limited number of releases we had that year I’d definitely say it was a top ten movie of the year and I still think it holds up well after multiple viewings.

The Way Back is currently playing on HBO Max.

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