Critics are praising Ben Affleck‘s latest turn on the big screen.
The actor stars in The Way Back as Jake Cunningham, a former basketball phenom who, for reasons unknown, walked away from the game. Years later he’s asked to coach the basketball team for his alma mater, but his own demons and alcoholism battle to keep him from helping the team achieve success.
The role is a personal one for Affleck, who has been honest about his own struggles with alcohol addiction and recently faced a public relapse.
RELATED: Ben Affleck Says Playing a Recovering Alcoholic in The Way Back Was ‘Cathartic’
Given the personal connection Affleck, 47, brought to the role, It’s no wonder critics are connecting to his performance.
“With its working-class setting, unstable central character and unfashionably gritty look, this trenchant, eyes-wide-open study of a boozy high school basketball coach in dire need of redemption could be said to serve much the same purpose for lead Ben Affleck, who’s back to doing solid, serious work here after a too-long sojourn skulking about as Batman and other non-dimensional characters,” Todd McCarthy wrote in his review for The Hollywood Reporter.
AP’s Lindsey Bahr, writing for ABC News, echoed McCarthy, pointing to Affleck’s performance as a high point of the movie.
“The Way Back does seem to have been constructed with an earnest spirit, and Affleck carries the film well on his larger-than-usual shoulders, capably showing all sides of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic — the funny, the sweet, the explosive and the self-destructive. It’s chilling to see the light go on in his eyes with a drink, and the moment when it goes out too,” she wrote.
The AV Club‘s Charles Bramesco sees this as Affleck’s return to serious movies and acclaimed acting performances.
“The standout [scene] is Jack’s eventual breakthrough in rehab; in another timeline, that’s Affleck’s Oscar reel, the scene clinching his reentry to Hollywood and the public’s good graces. He’ll just have to settle for the knowledge that this showing can stand comparison with his best. It makes a compelling argument for movie stardom as a potent force of audience association and identification. We shed the inevitable eye-water because it’s Ben Affleck up there, a living person with whom we’ve cultivated a relationship over two-plus decades onscreen,” he wrote.
Some critics took issue with the plot of the film, leading The Guardian critic Benjamin Lee to call it a “shallow” sports movie.
“It’s really just a vehicle for Affleck, and a fitting one at that, and he’s solid at underplaying what could have been a more outsized role. But [director Gavin O’Connor] pulls back so much at so many moments that there’s not a great deal he can really squeeze out of his character, who like everyone else in the film feels sorely underwritten,” Lee wrote. “The Way Back is a film stuck on the runway, quietly circling around, always threatening to fly but never managing to get off the ground. It was a cathartic experience for Affleck but for the rest of us, it carries very little weight.”
The Way Back is in theaters Friday.
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