By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Depression and alcoholism often go hand in hand and can make for a toxic combination in one’s life. That is a struggle which, unfortunately, Ben Affleck knows all too well, but seems to rise above it for his passion in life–cinema. Well, his latest acting turn in a movie calls for him to channel into these demons and acknowledge them whole-heartedly. The movie is The Way Back and the result is a powerful and candid glimpse into the life of a character whose demons threaten to destroy what could be a fulfilling and enriching existence.

Affleck stars as former high school basketball star Jack Cunningham, a gifted athlete who once had a bright future, but whose personal problems got the best of him. After struggling with adulthood, Jack barely gets by as a construction worker who spends his nights getting drunk. When his old high school desperately needs a new basketball coach, they reach out to Jack who very reluctantly takes the job. As Jack gets more involved with the program and his team, he begins to see a way out of his lifetime downward spiral. However, having always avoided the sources of his pain, Jack eventually relapses when life deals him another blow.

Though my synopsis might sound utterly depressing, the movie is actually not a total downer. It is a mostly well-balanced story of redemption amidst very trying obstacles. Written by Brad Oglesby and directed by Gavin O’Connor, The Way Back is an emotionally moving portrait of a person struggling to stay afloat in very harrowing life journey. The filmmakers take a familiar formula, but give it a more personal and intimate edge.

The main factor that gives more credibility and relevance is the casting choice of Ben Affleck who gives what is his finest performance yet. The actor obviously knows this struggle very well and utilizes this real life experience to develop his character in some impactful ways. Affleck also has a great supporting cast, particularly Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, and more. Each of these talents add to the emotional weight of this truly powerful story.

And one doesn’t even have to be a sports fan to connect with a movie like this one. Sure, basketball is a big component and serves as an allegory on life and its struggles, but this movie is bigger than that and its sports element is only a vehicle to deliver a life affirming message. The Way Back is a movie that I love very much and hope that it finds its fans. And Ben Affleck definitely deserves recognition for delivering a performance of a lifetime.

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