The Way Back

Ben Affleck and Melvin Gregg in “The Way Back.”

The Sawmill Theatres has reopened, safely. The manager has roped off every other row of seats. Keeping a distance from other movie fans will not cause a problem for movie watchers. He has dropped admission prices to only $5. The popcorn machine is up and working just fine. Come on down and watch a movie.

Ben Affleck has in his personal life been troubled by issues with alcohol and other substances. In a case of art mimicking life, in “The Way Back” Affleck plays Jack, a man deeply steeped in alcohol abuse who gets a chance to rebuild his broken life. He begins “The Way Back” by joining the local high school as a basketball coach. Jack enjoyed star status as a player at the same high school before his life went down the tubes.

The terrible story of personal collapse and self-induced destruction unwinds with carefully measured steps. We discover early on that Jack showers in the morning with a beer. He drinks on the job, a dangerous plan as he works on a high rise construction project. We meet his wife from whom he has been apart for a year.

Then he gets the chance to coach the boys basketball team. That occupies him sufficiently that he forgets for whole minutes at a time how miserable he feels and to what a low estate he has fallen.

He has a good way farther to fall before he hits his bottom.

Affleck has the modes and moods of a prisoner of alcohol down to a T, sadly for him.

The film leaves us with most of the important or interesting ideas and situations unresolved. We don’t know if Jack will defeat his internal torture or not. We can speculate. We can take heart that he seems to have healed at least some of his broken family ties, but we just don’t know if he will come all “The Way Back” or not.

Director Gavin O’Connor also worked with Ben Affleck on the very successful story of a mob hitman, “The Accountant.” With “The Way Back” he had the bad luck to open his picture just as the pandemic closed everything down.

Writer Brad Ingelsby had his best success with the Liam Neeson action flick, “Run All Night.”

“The Way Back” runs for one hour and 48 minutes. This movie about grown-up problems carries a strong R rating for language. An average three sawblades for this well-done film of human failings, struggle, and redemption.

The best line in the movie comes when the coach encourages one of his players by telling him that the opposing team thinks that he “... can’t hit the ocean from the beach.” I bet that left a bruise.

One of the few spirits elevating moments in the film comes when a high school pep band plays “Louie Louie” for a few measures.

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