The Way Back

108 minutes | Rated R

Ben Affleck’s real life struggles with addiction mirrors that of his character, Jack Cunningham, in the new movie “The Way Back.” Cunningham was the star basketball player for Bishop Hayes High School. He has recently separated from his wife, and is working construction jobs to make ends meet. We see him drinking on the job, sneaking a drink on the way home, spending the evening at his local bar where he is a regular. He has a friendly chat with the cashier at the liquor store, he greets a friend on his way out. We see that most of his refrigerator is filled with beer. We see him drinking a beer during his morning shower.

He has Thanksgiving dinner at his sister’s home, he gets along well with her husband and their children. Things are going well until his sister tells him that his wife called her to see how he is doing, she has heard about his drinking and is concerned. Jack becomes irate wondering why she didn’t just call him. The next morning, he finds a message on his phone from the Priest at his old school, asking him to stop by. He is a bit confused but shows up.

We learn that the school’s basketball coach has had to quit in order to care for an ailing parent. The last time that the basketball team was competitive was when he was playing. When he learned of the need for a new coach, Jack was the first person that he thought of. Jack’s first instinct is to turn him down. The Priest asks him to think it over and call him in the morning. 

Jack stops by practice and meets the team, and the assistant coach, a Math teacher who knows little about the game. He decides to take the position. The team responds well to his tactics and begins to improve. The team’s Chaplain has some reservations about Jack, especially about his frequent usage of profanity. 

Cunningham’s wife calls and asks him to lunch. We learn that she has moved on and met someone new. They have been invited to the birthday party of the son of one of their friends. We learn that Jack and his wife had a son that died at a young age from cancer and the birthday boy was their son’s best friend. The boys met in the hospital while being treated for their conditions and the parents bonded during the experience. He agrees to attend.

The team hits a winning streak, Jack begins connecting with the boys and cuts back on his drinking, we see him working on plays during his construction job. The team is on the verge of the play-offs when Jack receives a call from his wife. Their friend’s son has taken a turn for the worse and is in the hospital. He rushes to the hospital to be with them.

“The Way Back” is a decent ‘slice-of-life’ drama that is well-acted. Affleck is the best known actor in the movie. I am not sure that I have seen any of the other actors in anything else, although a few seemed vaguely familiar. They all do an excellent job regardless. My main issue with the movie is that the ending leaves more questions than it answers. We look into the lives of these characters, we become interested in what will happen to them, and then the movie kind of leaves us hanging wondering what will happen with them.

“The Way Back” is rated R for alcohol use and language. It is suitable for teens and up. I rate it three out of five basketballs.