To describe the career of Ben Affleck as “varied” would almost be an understatement.
After making it in the spotlight by winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (with his good friend Matt Damon) for 1997’s Good Will Hunting, he stretched into the “Razzie” territory with films like 1998’s Armageddon (which Affleck has comically given his own thoughts on), Pearl Harbor (2001), and 2003’s mega dud Gigli.
Then, of course, he proved to be solid behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010), and the Oscar winning Argo (2012). You can also say what you will about his portrayals of superheroes, but not many actors can say they have portrayed three different ones (Batman, Superman, and Daredevil to be exact).
I say all this because, upon watching The Way Back, I admit to forgetting something: Ben Affleck is truly a great actor, and his work here is truly among his very best to date. He stars as Jack Cunningham, a former High School basketball star. With his playing days long behind him, he works construction and spends the majority of his free time drinking (this includes drinking in the shower, something I did not know was a thing.)
He is soon reached out to by Father Devine (John Aylward) from his alma mater Catholic High School. The current head coach has suffered a heart attack, and will be unavailable to coach, so they have asked for Jack’s help. The boy’s team does have some talent and charisma, yet hasn’t won a game the whole season. The team does have its good share of characters, from the player who keeps hooking up with the ladies before every game for good luck to the almost non-verbal shy potential leader.
The key feature of the film is what it focuses on, or rather what it does not focus on. You would expect the film to be mainly about a team that can come from behind and win the big game. It is mainly focused on Jack’s dealing with his past, which soon comes to fruition (and was something I for one found rather shocking). In short, if you wish to watch this film just thinking it is a feel good sports film, you will be more than surprised.
Parents, the film is rated R, and that is mainly for the language (something Jack tells the other coaches he is “working on”.) Of course (as is the case for most teenage boys), the kids on the team are prone to dropping more than a few F bombs. While there is no nudity or sexual content, there is indeed some in the dialogue. High School and up.
What makes the movie powerful, in short, is Affleck. I admit to not knowing that Affleck himself is a struggling alcoholic (something he has attributed to his father), having been in stints on more than one occasion. Thankfully (from what I could see), Affleck did not drink alcohol for the unimaginable reasons that Jack does in the film. Still, these personal approaches definitely helped Affleck in his performance. I don’t want to say that made the process any easier for him (to struggle with one’s personal demons is anything but), yet he is able to strip away any guards he has and show us a truly tortured soul.
It is no wonder we feel so deeply for the character and the actor long after the credits roll.