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Parents' Guide to

The Way Back (2020)

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Tons of swearing in mature Affleck alcoholism drama.

Movie R 2020 108 minutes
The Way Back (2020) Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 5 parent reviews

age 18+

The way back

Not for kids
age 15+

The Way Back - Gets a Little Lost

Looking like it might have offered a different take on an old theme this one just misses the mark. As a study of alcoholism, it comes near to saying something but a somewhat unnecessarily grotty script lets it down. Sordid jokes and a swear-fest approach did not help in this situation. Ben Affleck was suitably morose and must have felt like he might have been mirroring parts of his own life. One of the most outstanding attributes that helped lift this work to a higher level is a sensitive and different kind of music score. For this feature, Award-nominated composer Rob Simonsen has created a thoughtful score that almost works against the normal flow (in the best possible way) His music highlights the sadness and angst being experienced by those involved. The imaginative arrangements also set this score apart to maximum effect. Maybe it’s a score looking for a better film. The basketball theme is rather tired and clichéd and having the young players mouthing such platitudes like “let’s win this f...’in game for the coach” took this script from the hoop, to the waste-basket. While it might offer something to the sporty types or those looking for a so-called up-lifter, others may have to work harder at getting much out of it. There’s some nice photography here and there, and the director tries hard but could have benefited from a smarter script.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (5 ):
Kids say (6 ):

Ben Affleck shows up in this atypical-for-him drama, elevating what would otherwise be a standard-issue sports film. His performance is so outstanding that it brings a new definition to the term "supporting actor": Everyone else in The Way Back is truly just supporting his ability to tell this story about the tragedy of alcoholism. His character, Jack Cunningham, is the kind of person who's often called a "guy's guy" -- and the movie's story will most likely appeal to older men who may better relate to the way Cunningham deals with the painful knocks life has handed him. Those tough moments are likely to squeeze parents' hearts so hard they can't breathe, which might also make them wonder how they'd handle such difficult moments in their own lives.

The Way Back may also be pointing to an effective way forward for faith-based films. It's hard to tell whether this one is or isn't intended to fall into that category. Like the agnostic who attends a Catholic school for the education rather than the dogma, the movie's faith-based elements are entirely character driven, and the setting is more of a means to an end. Unlike many of the movies coming out of the evangelical community, The Way Back doesn't preach, sermonize, or recruit: It just is. Cunningham is a blue-collar worker living in a community of blue-collar workers. He's not striving for perfection or even survival; he's striving to numb the pain. Some of his coaching techniques are the opposite of what the school is teaching. The chaplain prays with the athletes that they play with respect and dignity above all, while Cunningham's mission is to win, even if that means unsportsmanlike conduct. And he swears more like a Hollywood-stereotypical Miami drug dealer than a Long Beach Catholic high school coach. That's who Cunningham is, but for parents, it may be cringey to see the high school kids pick up on his favorite word: "f--k." Cunningham isn't intended to be a role model, and yet he is to these boys -- and therefore might, in a sideways direction, be to your kids. The Way Back is a film worth seeing, just not with them.

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