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Review: Ben Affleck Battles Basketball Rivals and Personal Demons in ‘The Way Back’

March 6, 2020Ben MK

Ben Affleck is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of being a movie star. But in his latest, the underdog sports drama The Way Back, it's Affleck's own personal experiences with alcohol abuse that help to elevate his portrayal of a man in search of redemption.

Jack Cunningham (Affleck) was once a talented high school basketball phenomenon with a bright future ahead of him. Due to a series of bad decisions and tragic misfortunes, however, he was never able to realize his true athletic potential. Fast forward some 25 years, and Jack is now a blue-collar construction worker who has grown accustomed to finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle. But with his self-destructive behavior getting the better of him on a nightly basis, it's only a matter of time before the worst fears of Jack's family and friends becomes a reality.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Jack receives an offer that might allow him to reclaim some semblance of a life — by returning to his old alma mater, Bishop Hayes High School, as the new head coach for its woefully underperforming boys basketball team. Suffice to say, it's not exactly the kind of job that Jack is clamoring for, but nonetheless, it's the one that he needs. The question is — will Jack, as reluctant as he is, be able to seize the opportunity and use it to claw his way out of the black hole of desperation and self-loathing that he's dug himself into? Or will he self-sabotage yet again and revert back to his old habits?

Directed by Gavin O'Connor, who previously teamed with Affleck for 2016's The Accountant, The Way Back marks Affleck's first leading role since undergoing a stint in rehab for his own highly publicized bouts with alcoholism; and the 47-year-old actor doesn't waste a minute of screen time showing viewers just how much he identifies with his character. Even though Jack may not exactly be an open book to those around him, Affleck's deeply moving portrayal offers incredible insight into the life of someone suffering from addiction — so much so that one can easily foresee him being a contender come awards season.

Emotionally raw, inspiring and heartfelt, the result is as much a story about one man's struggle to triumph over his own personal demons as it is the story of a high school basketball team fighting to overcome the odds. More importantly, though, The Way Back is proof that adversity can only beat you if you let it, no matter how little light may seem to lie at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

The Way Back releases March 6th, 2020 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout including some sexual references. Its runtime is 1 hr. 48 min.

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