From the moment it was first announced, The Way Back was setting itself up to be a powerful film. A movie about a man's battle with alcoholism starring Ben Affleck, a man who has had very public battles with the same. The movie certainly had potential to be a riveting drama about loss, and, one hopes, redemption. Based on critics reactions as reviews have hit the internet this morning, it appears that not only has The Way Back built a strong movie, it's done it on the back of what might be one of Ban Affleck's greatest performances to date.
On paper, The Way Back looks, regardless of how good it is, like a movie we've seen before. A man finds the distraction, and the drive, that he needs to battle his own personal demons in sports. In the case of The Way Back, by becoming the coach of a high school basketball team. And the movie is that, at the same time, CinemaBlend's Mike Reyes was impressed with how different director Gavin O'Conner's story was from what we're used to seeing in this style of film, and The Way Back is all the better for it...
Some of the tropes you’d expect to see play out in either a story of personal redemption or sporting triumph are missing, and in their place are well earned events that better serve a more dramatically rich and believable version of what seems like a familiar narrative.
Certainly, the big story surrounding The Way Back is Ben Affleck himself. The actor spent some time in rehab shortly before filming the movie, which is going to give the entire story an extra twist. However, as Indiewire explains, it's not this element of reality, that both Ben Affleck and his character are trying to get back some semblance of their lives, that makes it all work, it's that, in fact, the movie doesn't let us see "the old Ben Affleck" at all.
[I]t has more to do with how Gavin O’Connor’s modest and moving sports drama refuses to let its leading man reclaim something of his old screen persona. It denies Affleck the crutch of his natural charisma, or the chance to hide behind a story that’s bigger than himself.
However, while some are of the opinion that that The Way Back and Ben Affleck have each hit just the right notes, there are some critics who disagree. In the end, The Way Back is a familiar story that we've heard before, and Variety doesn't seem to believe that the movie ever really transcends the tropes.
Beneath the authenticity of its staging, there's a moralistic simplicity to The Way Back. The film is too programmatic an illustration of how bad things happen to good people.
The Way Back doesn’t fancy itself a typical sports drama. It’s attempting to be more than that with a lot of threads and side plots that never quite develop to any satisfying end.
Reviews overall appears to be leaning slightly positive if that's the sort of thing that matters to you. In the end, if you're one that tends to enjoy the formula of the inspirational sports movie or the redemption character arc, then The Way Back appears to tick all the boxes. If you're looking for something more, many critics think the movie has that too, but each viewer may need to be the judge of that.