Affleck a standout in role that made him revisit his demons
While not, as many have assumed, a true story, The Way Back is definitely true to life.
No-one would know this more than the fine movie's lead actor, Ben Affleck.
In playing a high school basketball coach fighting a daily battle against chronic alcoholism, Affleck was clearly able to connect with his own well-chronicled personal troubles to craft an unerringly convincing performance.
He plays Jack Cunningham, a former junior basketball star whose path to the big time was ended by a complex suite of addictive behaviours.
Decades later, Jack is drinking around the clock. When he is taking his morning shower, there is always a can of beer in the shampoo rack. Sip. Lather. Rinse. Sip. Repeat. You can tell this guy has been on this routine for a long time.
Even at his regular job as a high-rise construction worker, Jack has come up with a number of irregular ways to ensure he can keep that groggy buzz going right through the day.
The evening usually ends at a dive bar within walking distance of home. Not that Jack is capable of walking that far unassisted on many a night.
By chance, Jack's old school - where his deeds on the court remain enshrined in legend - throws him a lifeline. Would he like to take a shot at reviving the flagging fortunes of his former team?
After much dithering and more drinking, Jack answers in the affirmative, and sets about whipping a motley team of players into competitive shape.
Against all odds, these also-rans gradually find themselves making a run for the play-offs. More remarkable, still, Jack starts taking a break from the booze.
So far, so road-to-redemption, right? Not really.
While The Way Back does trace a familiar storytelling arc, it never quite conforms to the predictable.
Jack's winding journey in, around and out of the bottle is certainly not the stuff of entertainment, but its does promise a measure of enlightenment many will sincerely appreciate.
Sure, The Way Back is by no means a perfect movie. A few key subplots regarding the failure of Jack's marriage and a complicated relationship with his sister are the recipient of either some choppy editing or wonky writing.
However, Affleck's unshakeable commitment to his character keeps The Way Back well and truly on track for the right destination.
The high calibre of his work here marks the welcome return of a talent that, just like Jack Cunningham, has lost his way.
THE WAY BACK (M)
Director: Gavin O'Connor (The Accountant)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Al Madrigal.
Rating : ***1/2
Last chance to be relegated from thirst place