Note: This is a spoiler-free The Way Back movie review
Unfortunately for the latest Hollywood sports drama, The Way Back just leaves you wanting your time back.
A rushing story and a casting difficult to connect with make The Way Back an attempted redemtion story that falls short.
Almost No Way To Back This Movie
So here’s the deal with how these redemptive “coach working with kids” movies work, and why this one doesn’t. Generally, a broken coach finds redemption in working with a team while building character, connecting with players, and discovering a reprieve from life’s pain. The audience roots for the coach, their team, and the turnaround that coincides. You know the ending, but you’re never 100% sure until it happens and the joy of winning the big moment is a genuinely good feeling.
That’s how it works. When it works.
In The Way Back, the character development of coach Jack Cunningham doesn’t connect with the audience. He is a high school superstar as a player who has turned to alcohol to cope with pain in his life. Which is the perfect set up for redemption as he fills in to coach his last-place alma mater.
The problem is Cunningham doesn’t show any real signs of transformation while he’s coaching the team. He uses a lot of gratuitous, lazy, vulgar language as he starts coaching, and he’s still cursing as long as he’s the coach. He’s an alcoholic at the start of his tenure and still drinking by the end of it. He has small moments with his players, but nothing sustaining or that feels lasting.
He essentially stays the same person he starts as while being a basketball coach, learning small lessons along the way but nothing developmental to the story. That makes the first 75+ minutes of the movie more stagnant than anything else.
The Basketball Rims Out As Well
To top it all off, the movie isn’t much of a joy for the sports fan either. The basketball scenes are subpar to a fan of the sport, and the team turnaround is more unrealistic than anything else with how it develops.
The shortcomings of The Way Back can be attributed to a few things. The simple thing to point to is the writing and lack of development in both the main character, his relationships, and his team.
A Confusing Casting
The overarching, subconscious issue is this — Ben Affleck simply isn’t a sympathetic character. For whatever reason, he doesn’t come off or connect with the audience that way on screen.
Affleck has done a press tour about his own personal substance abuse, which is raw, authentic, and admirable. It’s clear he’s trying to work through his own public struggles in multiple ways, including the roles he’s choosing professionally. It’s worked brilliantly for him behind the camera. It doesn’t translate on-screen, at least in The Way Back.
There is a decent twist in the middle of The Way Back, and it opens the door to a legitimate redemption story that tugs at audience heartstrings. It is a true look inside at not only the inner turmoil Jack Cunningham faces but what anyone who deals with his affliction goes through (like Affleck himself). It’s a genuine attempt and you can see the effort.
But it’s too hard to root for the main character in this case. Part of that is the way he acts for the bulk of the movie. Part of it is a missed casting in choosing the portrayer of their protagonist.
Should I See The Way Back?
This one is pretty straightforward. The writing leaves something to be desired. The casting doesn’t connect with the audience. And the basketball has too many holes for the sports fan. The Way Back will have a tougher road recovering from reviews than its main character has in the movie.
(Featured Image courtesy of Warner Bros.)