You'd think that a film like The Way Back might be the sort of project that Ben Affleck would want to stay away from. Considering his own real-life struggles with alcoholism are still in the recent collective memory, it could be assumed that the man might want to leave that subject out of his work, at least for the moment. But as it turns out, Affleck admitted that The Way Back is exactly the kind of movie he wants to be making.
It was a subject I had to ask about while interviewing Ben Affleck during the New York press day for his latest film with The Accountant director Gavin O’Connor, and it was all because of another remark that Affleck had made in the press recently.
With his quote on how a friend thought he’d “drink himself to death” should he have pressed forward with making The Batman, I wanted to know if he had any similar trepidation with making a very real film about recovery and addiction. Which brings us to exactly the reason why The Way Back is such a welcomed prospect in Ben Affleck’s eyes:
No, quite the opposite, actually. The Way Back is the kind of movie that energizes me, personally, where I get to experience these intense and real emotions that are very relatable, and that the experiencing of which is really cathartic and kind of wonderful, even when they’re sad. Add to that the extraordinary cast I got to work with, it was just so much fun every day.
Listening to the man describe why he’s all about tacking the very real scars of his life in fictional confines, you get a real good sense of who Ben Affleck is, both as a person and an artist. No stranger to shedding a light on his own past, his portrayal of The Way Back’s fictional and flawed protagonist, Jack Cunningham, is the stuff that anchors itself in the pain and promise of reality.
Considering that Ben Affleck was revealed to have had a breakdown during a particularly emotional take with on-screen ex-wife Janina Gavankar, it’s a good sign that The Way Back offered its star actor a chance to work through some of his own life’s issues in a safe and encouraging environment.
That’s ultimately one of the factors that led the actor to this part in particular, and away from his blockbuster footing as the previous candidate to bring a solo Batman movie to life. Which is a subject you can watch Ben Affleck personally speaking about in this video from our interview:
Of course, when discussing The Way Back versus The Batman, the subject of why Ben Affleck left the DC Comics project was ripe for discussion as well. In an afternoon where he was open to talking why the Snyder Cut of Justice League needs to become available to the public, his history with the former DC Extended Universe is something that is definitely a wellspring of candor and respect.
Naturally, as we previously covered from this very same sit down, Ben Affleck left The Batman because not only were those surrounding him concerned for his health, but ultimately it wasn’t a passion project. Owning up to that fact, he bowed out respectfully and left those duties to eventually be undertaken by War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves.
Looking at how Matt Reeves has been handling his time in the director’s chair over the past couple of months, it’s very clear that The Batman couldn’t be in better hands. That same sentiment applies to watching Ben Affleck’s performance in The Way Back, as the very human drama that Jack Cunningham’s story portrays is both rousing and heartbreaking. No matter which half you're observing play out on the screen, it's purely within Affleck's wheelhouse.
It’s a very human saga, and equally as important to Jack’s road to recovery is the time he spends teaching his team of young players how to love and respect the very game he was once adept at playing. While his character is the film’s functional lead, Ben Affleck also understands that the young cast he’s interacting with is also a very important ingredient in The Way Back’s structure as well; something that he wouldn't be able to truly relish if he were still involved with a blockbuster film such as The Batman.
Watching the young cast that includes actors Melvin Gregg, Charles Lott Jr, Will Ropp and Brandon Wilson all playing under the tutelage of his character’s rough and tumble, yet proud personality, the story of Jack Cunningham’s skills as a coach is integral to how he processes his own mistakes in The Way Back. It’s why director Gavin O’Connor really doesn’t see the project as a “sports movie” per se, and it’s also partially why the road to recovery Ben Affleck’s character walks is as believable as it is in the finished product.
In a career that’s given him opportunities to work with various friends and luminaries that swim in the same circles, Ben Affleck can pretty much land any job he wants to. Should he have seriously wanted to keep The Batman on his plate, one would think that Warner Bros would have gladly earmarked that project for someone who’s made quite a few movies with them in the past couple of years.
On the other side of that coin though, the studio has supported Ben Affleck's choice to make The Way Back instead, which by all accounts was the better choice. With a partnership of trust, and a performance of very human stakes, it’s living proof that Affleck’s instincts on which project he should be a part of, both as a performer and a person, are as keenly honed as they’ve ever been.
The Way Back debuts in theaters on March 6, but stay tuned to CinemaBlend for continuing coverage from our recent interviews concerning that very film.