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On Our Radar: Ben Affleck in ‘The Way Back’

Folks, you know cinematic greatness when you see it. Sometimes, it comes in high profile fare. Other times, it’s in below the radar works that need to be championed. That’s where we come in. A new series of articles here at Awards Radar, called On Our Radar, will call out the work that we think deserves an extra bit of acclaim. Especially with Oscar season upon us and the precursors underway, now is not the time stay silent about what deserves Academy Award attention. Today, we make the second subject of the column the phenomenal performance by Ben Affleck, in the film The Way Back.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor and written by Brad Ingelsby, the film follows Jack Cunningham (Affleck) a former high school basketball phenom. When Jack walked away from the game, he didn’t just forfeit his future, but largely began a downward spiral. Years later, he’s an alcoholic construction work, though when his alma mater offers him a coaching position, it offers up a shot at redemption. Of course, nothing is that simple, and Jack’s demons are never far off. The more we learn about why he is the way he is, the more your heart breaks. Moreover, knowing his true life struggle with drinking, Affleck imbues the character with deep seated pain. Even just in sequences where he’s imbibing, the real Affleck echoes throughout.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ben Affleck in a scene from “The Way Back.” (Richard Foreman/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Ben Affleck goes to some amazing places here. When giving him my Actor of the Year prize for 2020 (here), I wrote the following: “Ben Affleck does something nearly impossible in The Way Back. He gives you a window into his pain and life experiences. Now, Affleck did not suffer the tragedies that his character in The Way Back did, but he notably also suffers from alcoholism. That experience drives the power of the performance, which he’s able to transmit entirely to you. What easily could have been a sports drama with a conflicted coach becomes something much more. Affleck digs down deep, rips your heart out, and reminds you why he’s an incredibly underrated actor. Tapping into his personal demons, he gives a haunting performance that deserves to be honored here at the end of the year. Jack Cunningham could have been just a role. Instead, Affleck makes the part one of his absolute signature performances.”

Warner Bros.

The Way Back is more than just Affleck, though. In proclaiming it the fourth best film of the year (here), I had this to say: “The Way Back could have easily been something ordinary. Instead, fueled by a staggering performance from Ben Affleck, it becomes a powerful testament to the human spirit. Somehow, Gavin O’Connor, after Miracle and Warrior, finds another way to give a new angle to the sports drama. Even without Affleck’s work, this was already a strong flick. With him, it’s about as good as a 2020 release gets.”

So far, Affleck hasn’t made much of a dent in the precursor season, in terms of the Actor race. That being said, his work in the movie should not be ignored. It does, for all the money, seem like Warner Bros. is positioning Affleck for an all or nothing Screen Actors Guild nomination. If he winds up with a SAG nod, that will be where his realistic path to an Oscar nom begins. If the guild snubs him, the Academy likely will too. At the same time, it’s important to remember how good he is, how deserving he is of recognition, and how overdue an acting citation for the man truly is.

The Way Back (2020) Cinematography by Eduard Grau

Keep Ben Affleck and The Way Back on your radar, ladies and gentlemen…

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Written by Joey Magidson

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