Ben Affleck turns in some of his strongest work in quite some time in the substance abuse drama, The Way Back. After a good chunk of the last decade spent participating in such thankless projects as Batman V, Superman and The Accountant, it’s good to see Affleck reminding audiences what brought him to our attention in the first place. Perhaps it’s because of his own well-publicized battle with the bottle that he’s able to convey such earnestness or maybe it’s because he’s that good and we’ve forgotten simply because of his involvement in projects that were beneath him.
The Way Back is a showcase for Affleck’s acting talents to be sure, but it’s more than that. The film illuminates the differences in how people react to what’s thrown into their life’s universe. Some choose to simply deal with it while others make the decision, conscious or not, to self medicate. The lead character in The Way Back is the latter. He’s definitely been thrown some horrific punches by life but instead of pulling himself together he has fallen into a pattern of simply dulling the pain with the intention of dealing with it at some later date I suppose. Most of us with any amount of life experience know that by not dealing with our emotional baggage we’re only asking for trouble. How Affleck’s character, Jack Cunningham, discovers this and what he does when confronted with his inability to work through his issues forms the crux of the film.
Jack’s alcoholism is established early in the film. If there’s an opportunity to drink he’s not going to miss it. He works construction by day and his nights are spent with his own company and either a cheap beer or a bottle of booze. At first it appears that he just has no motivation in life. It’s at this point that we learn that Jack was once an up and coming basketball star who turned his back on the sport. The team he played for in school is now on a losing streak and Jack is offered a job coaching the team. This gives him an opportunity to turn them around, which he promptly does in quick succession. This gives his life a purpose. Soon enough though, the real reasons for Jack’s imbibing to excess are revealed, which I won’t unveil here in the risk of keeping the review spoiler free.
The thing that actually keeps the film from completely hitting a bullseye is the basketball subplot. That element isn’t nearly as compelling as the film’s main story depicting Jack’s addiction struggles. Affleck’s performance, however, more than compensates for the film’s shortcomings. Although The Way Back may not stand up to such similarly themed films as The Days of Wine and Roses and The Lost Weekend, it’s compelling enough to warrant one’s attention.
The Way Back is playing everywhere.
Ben Affleck in The Way Back
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