When it comes to inspirational sports dramas, “The Way Back” checks all the boxes. This film about personal redemption through the love of sports is decent, if unremarkable. Its heart is in the right place, but it never rises to anything above “simply adequate.”
In high school, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) was the star athlete at his Catholic high school. He was the captain of the champion basketball team, with a full scholarship to college to play ball. Daddy issues kept him from going to college, and his life has hit the skids after a family tragedy and a lifelong struggle with sobriety. Years later, Jack gets a chance for a do-over when he is approached to coach his alma matter’s struggling basketball team. He reluctantly accepts, turning the team and his life around in the process.
Movies like this are a dime a dozen and almost always have the same frustrating, formulaic retelling, but it’s still watchable thanks to Affleck’s decent performance. Perhaps the material hits close to home for the actor, who has had his share of personal struggles. The film doesn’t really tackle addiction head-on and glosses over much of the difficulties of living with alcoholism. There are too many scenes of Jack pounding beers and falling off his barstool, which perhaps is supposed to make the audience feel sorry for the guy as he destroys the only bright spot in his pitiful life.
The religious school setting doesn’t figure into the story as much as you’d expect, but there are a couple of scenes of praying and mentions of God. If not for the R-rating and cursing throughout, I would’ve sworn this was a faith-based film. It’s not. “The Way Back” doesn’t pander to the faithful as much as it could’ve, but it’s also not as inspirational as it should’ve been. It’s just another average notch in the cinematic genre.