"Reel Reviews: ‘The Way Back’ is an inspirational journey too long" by: Jessica Shepard

   I’ve seen my fair share of “inspirational” sports movies that show triumph over adversity. 
   And all of them get to the point relatively quickly and end on a high note. 
   Sadly, “The Way Back” really doesn’t do either of those things and seems to stretch onward forever. 
   The Way Back is an American sports drama film directed by Gavin O’Connor and written by Brad Ingelsby. 
   It stars Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, John Aylward, and Janina Gavankar. 
   Jack Cunningham (Affleck) is an alcoholic construction worker who is separated from his wife, Angela (Gavankar). 
   While at Thanksgiving dinner with his family, his sister Beth (Watkins) reveals that friends, including Angela, have expressed concern about his drinking and isolation from friends and family. 
   The next day, Jack receives a call from Father Devine (Aylward) at his Catholic high school Bishop Hayes, where he was a star basketball player and led the team to multiple championships. 
   Father Devine asks him to step in as the school’s basketball coach, as the current coach has suffered a heart attack. 
   Jack is initially reluctant, but accepts the job and is then introduced to assistant coach and algebra teacher Dan (Madrigal), as well as members of the team. 
   Bishop Hayes has only won one game and has not gone to the playoffs since Jack was a student. 
   As a result, student interest in basketball has dropped greatly, leaving the team with just six varsity players. 
   Among these players are Brandon, the team’s introverted point guard and most talented player, and Marcus, the team’s center, who aggravates his teammates and Jack with his attitude. 
   The team faces Memorial, a larger school with a much more talented team, in Jack’s first game as coach. 
   Trailing significantly and frustrated at a perceived lack of effort, Jack benches Marcus and demands the team play with more toughness. 
   Nevertheless, Bishop Hayes loses badly. 
   Dan begins to notice signs of Jack’s alcoholism, including an allusion to his drinking habits by Memorial’s coach and finding beer cans in Jack’s office. 
   After the game, Jack drives by Brandon walking alone and gives him a ride home. 
   Brandon reveals that his mother is dead and his father cares for his younger brothers, leaving him unable to attend his games. 
   Jack begins to institute strategic changes to the team, adopting a full-court press defense and a focus on conditioning to make up for the team’s relative lack of size and talent. 
   The team is initially annoyed by the stricter practices and Jack’s aggressive attitude but soon grows to respect him. 
   When Marcus arrives late for the next game, Jack kicks him off of the team. 
   Jack’s changes result in a close game, and he draws up a play that allows Brandon to pass to a teammate for the game-winning shot. 
   The team keeps winning and Jack forms a bond with his students, which leads to a decrease in his drinking problem. 
   Unfortunately, the film doesn’t make his reason for drinking clear until the last quarter of the film and that’s too long of a delay in my opinion. 
   The movie is rated R for language throughout including some sexual references and locks in 108 minutes of run time.

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