The Way Back is an Oscar Worthy All-Too-Personal Character Study For Ben Affleck (Blu-ray Review)

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Follow the road to redemption when “The Way Back” arrived on Blu-ray and DVD on May 19. Academy Award winner Ben Affleck (“Argo,” “The Accountant”) stars in “The Way Back,” directed by Gavin O’Connor (“The Accountant,” “Warrior,” “Miracle”). Here is my blu-ray review:

Back in high school, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) had everything going for him. A basketball phenom, he could have punched his ticket to college or even the pros, but, instead, he chose to walk away from the game, forfeiting his future. Jack’s glory days are long gone…but, as it turns out, not forgotten. Years later, he gets the chance to take back his life when he is asked to coach the struggling basketball team at his alma mater. Jack reluctantly accepts, surprising no one more than himself, and as the boys start to come together as a team and win, Jack may get his last shot at redemption.


Review

Art imitates life imitates art or something to that effect? Without sounding like a complete dick, does it not feel like this is the most personal film that Ben Affleck has ever starred in? Everyone who loves them some Affleck is all too familiar with the sad photos of him staring at the ocean while smoking a bent cigarette wearing nothing but a towel and covered in triad tattoos. He’s publicly battled alcoholism just like his character Jack in The Way Back and seeing the similarities of his struggles made for an all-too-real and gritty experience that felt like I was a literal fly on the wall here as Jack maintains his drinking routine, constantly ensuring there’s always one freezer-chilled can of beer ready to be downed.

The film was directed by Gavin O’Connor, who worked with Affleck on The Accountant (a much different cinematic experience – since it has guns and stuff), and I like how these two collaborate. O’ Connor is obviously damn good at making a sports film and The Way Back is just as powerful a basketball movie as it is a character study on dealing with severe depression and addiction. The scenes with the kids playing on the court are intense and dramatic, with Affleck cursing at referees from the sidelines much to the chagrin of the catholic priest who runs the highschool team. The movie starts off slow but it really does pick up after Jack begins coaching these kids. The dynamic here felt honest and authentic – and the results of their journey together may not go the way you’d typically expect but that tonal shift helps set this film apart from typical sports dramas and I appreciated that.

The Way Back is a very emotional film and there are some dark turns that really shook me. Affleck is absolutely delivering what I feel is his strongest acting performance to date here and I really hope that this film is remembered come Awards season (I mean, are any new movies really coming out anyway at this point?). I like a good “comeback” story as much as the next guy and although The Way Back feels like that kind of film, there’s enough grim character study throughout that I hesitate to say that’s even the point of the story by the time we meet the conclusion. For a movie this damn good to end up buried and released abruptly on demand due to the pandemic, it’s a crime – and a massive bummer for Affleck, who I feel could have been an Oscar frontrunner if they dropped this sucker around November 2020 instead.

Special Features

  • Every Loss Is Another Fight: The Road to Redemption
  • The Way Back: This Sporting Life

After watching Affleck play drunk and sad for most of the film, it was a shock to see him look so happy and stoned for the special features interviews. Seriously – Affleck looked super high for these segments and that’s totally fine by me, because I needed to see him look like he still had some life left in him after the emotional rollercoaster that was The Way Back. The features aren’t stacked here, but they’re both great little making-of pieces that definitely added to the experience.

Rating: 4/5

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