Movie Review: The Way Back
I know nothing of basketball. Absolutely nil. I’ve seen Space Jam, and that’s more or less where my knowledge of basketball ends. To dive into a film where the subject matter entails something I have absolutely no interest in is always a bit of a gamble. The Way Back throws us into a film all about basketball, and how the game has the potential to salvage an alcoholic drifter as he takes the reigns of his former alma mater team.
Considering Ben Affleck’s own battles with addiction, I assume The Way Back hits rather close to home. It can be seen in a rather resounding, albeit sometimes disconnected performance. His starring role offers up a nice mixture of his abilities as a leading man, but also his shortcomings when it comes to testing his mettle. He’s tested rather well by the emotional pieces of the film, and for the most part, he certainly seems to have thrown himself into the role as best he can. His second pairing with director Gavin O’Connor after the equally as solid The Accountant, the two pair up with solid enough results.
It’s nothing out of the ordinary. O’Connor’s direction brings about the various expected moments of the script. There are no scenes that will initiate any sort of shock or surprise, it plays it safe in every bit it provides. Some of the supporting characters become rather grating, I assume they’ve all been thrown in to create a mismatched group that comes together, overcoming their personal issues to play ball. It works, barely. Kenny (Will Ropp) in particular feels like the most annoying of all, not because of the bleak performance but also because of the one-note character he provides. An unbelievably big womaniser, but that seems to be his only personality trait. One of the main issues with the players on the team is that the one issue they each have overwhelms any originality or personality they could potentially throw at the screen.
Affleck is very much centre stage. He brings the direction to life a bit. Without him, I fear the film would’ve been rather flat. It brings out standard moments of cinematography, direction and writing. Expected tropes and predictable dialogue but done in a way that provides an interesting hook as it blends itself with basketball and comradery between teammates. It fumbles its way through a relatively engaging story, one that comes full circle and, in the end, doesn’t feel like it has gone anywhere in particular.
The Way Back is no stranger to throwing in the contemporary cliché moments we’ve come to expect as an audience. For me in particular, it’s a film that plays most of its moments by the books. Its entertainment value thankfully overcomes this potential difficulty, but only barely. A solid piece of film, Affleck dominates the show in this one, and rightfully so. It’s the little things within this film that let it down. The lack of composition or interesting shots, the little detail we’re given of these characters isn’t enough to give us anything lasting or impressionable. Affleck holds it together though; I can only imagine how bad his back must be hurting after carrying this film across the finish line.