By Payton McGuire
In terms of sport films, Gavin O’Connor’s The Way Back is nothing to write home about. Despite a deeply personal message of overcoming one’s inner demons to find renewed success, this movie suffers with a story that’s been told many times before in much better ways.
Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) is an alcoholic, suffering in isolation following his divorce from his wife. A former high school basketball star, he is called on by his alma mater Bishop Hayes to coach their floundering team, which has not seen a championship since Jack was a player. Through several struggles and hardships, Jack begins to turn around the Bishop Hayes team and himself-but coming to terms with his painful past causes Jack to wonder whether it’s all worth it in the end.
The greatest basketball movie certainly is not The Way Back. Not only does it pale in comparison to a classic like Hoosiers, it directly rips its story beats from it: from the salt-of-the-earth new coach who has to turn around a failing team of misfits, to the alcoholic who gets clean to help him out (both of which have been fused into Affleck’s Jack), to the initially hostile players warming up to him, and on and on and on. This film is greatly handicapped by Affleck’s generally bland performance, though his familiarity with alcoholism and his struggle to overcome his own addiction temper my criticism. The supporting cast is largely forgettable and uninteresting, each filling a cliched trope of sports film roles that do nothing but remind you of movies that did it better. The basketball scenes are normal fare, but seem lacking in tension and competitive energy. The only decent parts in The Way Back involve Jack’s interactions with his ex-wife Angela (played by Janina Gavankar), who does her best to save the film but in the end falls to the wayside along with the rest.
The Way Back has done one positive thing: reminded me that the only good basketball movies are Hoosiers and possibly Air Bud. If you have to watch a sports movie that will actually tell a good story, I suggest the latter over this sad display.
My Rating: 1/5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%