The Way Back

The Way Back ★★★½

Clear eyes, full glass, can’t lose. I have a soft spot for Ben Affleck in these types of roles. Hopeless, paunchy Ben. Tearful, drunk Ben. Dishevelled, untucked, foul-mouthed Ben. Here he does a decent job of conveying the broken, addicted everyman whose former glory on the basketball court a quarter century prior makes him the unconventional first choice to lead his alma mater’s team of disorganised-but-competent players, when they find themselves suddenly without a coach.

The Way Back hits many of the beats you’d expect of a classically structured underdog story, and is somewhat elevated—particularly early on—by a pointedly somber score, Eduard Grau’s restrained, desaturated cinematography (he also shot Buried and A Single Man), and some inspired editing choices. Al Madrigal (as assistant coach Dan) is terrific in a smallish role, and while we don’t get to know many of the Tigers players more than superficially, there’s plenty of natural talent on that bench too.

To its credit, the film adopts a more character-based playbook in the fourth quarter, favouring gut punches over three-pointers, and it’s hard not to project Affleck’s real-life struggles into some scenes. This is his best role in years, but the rest of the game is here for a draw, not the win.

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