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Movie Review: “The Way Back”

With movie theaters shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many first-run films are already being made available on digital platforms. One such movie is “The Way Back,” which was released in theaters on March 6 and made its digital debut just 18 days later. The film stars Ben Affleck as a former high school basketball phenom who battles personal demons while trying to help his alma mater return to hoops glory.

Any assumption that this would be a Coach Carter-type story is dispelled early on in the film. Affleck’s character, Jack Cunningham, is flawed, jaded and haunted by his past. In search of redemption, Cunningham accepts an offer to coach the Bishop Hayes boys basketball program – the same program he once put on the national map as a player. As the season progresses, the team begins to find success and Cunningham finds a sense of self-worth that had long been lacking. But will it last? Or will Cunningham’s entire world come crashing dowon him?

Make no mistake: “The Way Back” is completely centered around the film’s protagonist. Every other character in the story – players, family members, school administrators, etc. – plays a secondary role here. With Affleck’s considerable acting skills on full display, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it also means that “The Way Back” isn’t really a sports movie. The game of basketball itself takes a back seat to the unfolding drama that is Jack Cunningham.

Ultimately, “The Way Back” succeeds because Cunninham’s story is compelling, gripping and, for many of us, all-too relatable. It also does an admirable job of avoiding the tired cliches we see in similar types of films. Above all, Affleck delivers a masterful performance. Give it a watch.

THE WAY BACK. Rated R (profanity and some sexual references). 108 minutes. Cast: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Jeremy Radin and Brandon Wilson. A Warner Bros. Afeature film.

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