We’ve seen the washed up coach turn around a lovable group of losers formula so many times over the years, in every sport from football to Olympic bobsledding, but Ben Affleck takes this tired equation and puts it on his shoulders making “The Way Back” a rewarding watch.

Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball superstar, who along the way to a promising college career slips into alcoholism and loses his everything. When his old alma mater asks him to come back and coach, Jack has to lift himself up and make these kids champions while fixing himself in the process.

A loose interpretation of that previous paragraph could apply to dozens of movies, but some of Affleck’s best acting and the twists and turns from director Gavin O’Connor keeps us invested. There are some surprises here and the story doesn’t go the way it really should. It also shines a very real light on the challenges some troubled people are facing everyday.

There are a couple of things I would have changed. I would have used the creative approach with the team’s progress more to let the audience know what was at stake during the well shot game footage. The film is also very melancholy at times, while we’re looking for something to cheer about with these very likeable characters.

That’s almost splitting hairs though, and “The Way Back” is a good film and a very good sports film with some important lessons.

The Way Back

Grade: B

Rated: R (A soft R for a few F-bombs)

Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes

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