Review: Affleck brings real life drama to coaching story 'The Way Back'

Ben Affleck plays a self-destructive alcoholic who becomes a high school basketball coach in affecting drama

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Ben Affleck is an alcoholic construction worker who becomes a high school basketball coach in "The Way Back," a sturdy redemption drama that makes a point of avoiding sports clichés or offering easy answers for its characters. 

Affleck is Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball standout who washed out of sports for a variety of self-destructive reasons. He now spends his days getting loaded on the job, in the shower and at Harold's Place, a watering hole where one of the locals walks him back to his place when he's too wasted to do it on his own.  

Al Madrigal and Ben Affleck in "The Way Back."

When he's asked to coach at his alma mater, where the basketball team hasn't made the playoffs since he graduated, he's hesitant. But he gives it a shot, even though he quickly learns he can't keep his demons buried for long.

Set against the dreariness of the industrial seaside community of Torrance, Calif., "The Way Back" has a working class bone structure that adds to its authenticity.

Co-writer and director Gavin O'Connor, who previously teamed with Affleck on "The Accountant," is more interested in Jack's soul than he is on-court drama, which helps "The Way Back" steer clear of typical coaching movie conventions.   

You can sense there's a personal connection with the part — Affleck has waged his own wars with addiction — and his short-fuse temper and outbursts of profanity are believable coming from the actor. 

Affleck is a superstar who carries darkness and sadness in his shoulders and in his eyes — his Batman was particularly joyless — which makes "The Way Back" an ideal role for him. He shoots, he scores.

'The Way Back'


Rated R: for language throughout including some sexual references

Running time: 108 minutes