There is nothing particularly extraordinary in the film “The Way Back” by director Gavin O’Connor, except perhaps for the performance of Ben Affleck. This is a quiet drama about a lonely alcoholic who receives a lifeguard when asked to train the high school basketball team. It’s the kind of tape that people like to say “Hollywood doesn’t do anymore,” which is only partly true. It’s also the kind of movie you might feel you’ve seen before (another partial reality). Affleck gives life to Jack Cunningham, a clumsy middle-aged man who drinks all day, every day. Open a can of beer in the shower. A liquor is served in the coffee cup while working in construction. Drink while driving to the bar. Drink at the bar. And the next day he repeats the same cycle. It is what could be called an alcoholic that works, although going aimlessly through life stunned by alcohol does not make him happy. He is barely surviving in his sad and dirty apartment until he receives a call from his past: the director of his old high school, Bishop Hayes, wants him back at the place where he was once a basketball star to train his current team, which is less than stellar.It is exactly what one would expect, but the scenes with the team are some of the best in the film – funny and lively and completely captivating – even when they don’t seem to stick to the game manual. But “The Way Back” doesn’t boast of being a typical sports drama. Try to be more than that with many threads and parallel plots that never end in a satisfactory ending. Basketball is not the focus. Jack is. This is a guy who has many ghosts and the tape takes time to reveal them. The script by Brad Ingelsby and O’Connor is very sparse in detail, perhaps to make “The Way Back” a more accurate reflection of how often the problems of the past occur in everyday life. But in retrospect, it leaves an irritating feeling that it was simply done as a cheap punch in the stomach. If there is a predominant problem in “The Way Back,” it generally feels like a cheap punch. Of course, the public will want to see Jack recover, he will feel breath when he starts to care about the basketball team, he will cheer when he wins and he will sigh when he slips, or maybe that is too cynical. “The Way Back” does seem to have been built with a frank spirit, and Affleck carries the film well on his shoulders, capable of showing all sides of an unfortunate alcoholic – the funny side, the sweet, the explosive, the self-destructive. It is chilling to see how his eyes are lit with a drink, and also the moment when they are turned off. “The Way Back” is a promising step forward for a star who has always known how to alternate between different genres. Even so, it is not as convincing as the recent interviews Affleck has given on his own struggles, interviews characterized by honesty and detail. Affleck has in his hands the personal experiences to make a great drama, whether writing, directing or acting , but “The Way Back” is not. “The Way Back,” a Warner Bros. premiere, has an R rating (which requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a tutor) from the US Film Association (MPAA, according to its acronym in English) by strong or foul language throughout the film, including some sexual references. Duration: 108 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four .___ Lindsey Bahr is on Twitter as www.twitter.com/ldbahr.
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