Fritz Lewis’s review published on Letterboxd:
I've been looking forward to this ever since I saw the trailer.
I'm a big fan of Gavin O'Connor's work as far as Warrior and The Accountant go, and seeing Ben Affleck portraying something that seemed almost semi-autobiographical felt pretty empowering to me.
I mean I really loved Honey Boy and I don't think alchohol addiction and recovery should be as stigmatized as it is.
The Way Back doesn't really offer anything new to the sports genre or for films about addiction. It's unfortunately not as raw as either of the films O'Connor has done in the past, and it's certainly a lot more superficial.
It relies on sad music a lot and throws in a lot of weird zooms, and it follows a lot of the characterization tropes you'd expect with only lightly touching on the things that have haunted Coach Cunningham outside of the film's timeframe, or a year or so before it.
I'm not saying it really had to. It certainly gets heavy during its best moments and manages the tonal shifts very well. But it honestly doesn't really say much more than "You can't change the past. You can only change how you move forward."
That's simplifying it for sure, and to be honest I really liked the movie and am making it seem like I don't.
It just... felt way too... simple?
It is Ben Affleck's story through and through. And yes, the basketball aspect only real exists to send home the message that sometimes bettering yourself starts with helping or motivating others, further serving his own growth... but it left me feeling kinda indifferent.
I just checked and saw that the writer of this also wrote the screenplay for Out of the Furnace... and to be honest that makes perfect sense.
It's a good fucking drama with great performances. It's personal and tackles heavy topics, but there's something missing and it relies to much on already explored tropes instead of really adding any new insight or depth into those said topics.