Films on sports become memorable when they tell a unique story; tell a known story in engaging format, features great acting or hosts technical excellence like memorable cinematography. A problem seen in this genre is herd behavior. When one model sells, others emulate by the dozen. For instance, there is an element of fatigue brought by the innate need of these films to showcase motivation, teamwork and achievement. Even before story unfolds, you know what it’s going to be. That can be a damper.
The Way Back is a regular film anchored by the solid presence of Ben Affleck. The film revolves around a former, talented high school basketball player who has drifted off the sport and is then called in to coach a team from his old school. There is nothing new about the problems plaguing him, there is nothing new about the struggles of the young players he is asked to coach. What appears refreshing is the acceptance of known narrative and its handling with a steady hand rooted in reality. Unlike your average sports film, which tends to periodically court elation and uplifting sequences, this one remains a bit dark and grim. That is understandable because the coach has genuine problems to overcome. The bleakness of his world mixes with the goings on in the basketball court, making for an overall mood that rarely frees itself from the damage he has already done to himself and the damage yet to be. Doing so, it becomes a good document of what it means to live and be scarred by life (which in turn, makes you an effective teacher), what it takes to be a good coach and how accountable to wards and school, coaches have to be. That element of realism and ordinary world is this 2020 film’s strong point.
Plus, Affleck turns in a convincing performance.
The film is available on Amazon Prime; worth watching.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)