PLD’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wow. This is easily my favorite film of the year so far. I am a fan of Gavin O'Connor's previous work, especially as I had seen this as potentially a third in a sports trilogy with works like Miracle and Warrior having already been placed high up in my sports hierarchy.
However, while sports is a huge component of The Way Back, it is far from the focus of the film and there are barely any recognizable tropes.
Instead we get the finest performance in Affleck's career as Jack Cunningham. Now, I get this is a cathartic performance from Affleck given that had just lived the subject and literally began filming the day after he got out of rehab himself, but it still is a brilliant piece of work.
What's wonderful about the film is that it is no way Hollywood-ized. It could have been, several times along the course of the film. It could have gone either way - either given Jack's character a more flashy rock bottom or a cheerful positive resolution where he's gotten over his alcoholism and has new purpose.
But it wouldn't have been real.
The film is about addiction and equally about grief. Deftly handled by O'Connor we are slowly given details about Jack's life, but it never goes quite the way you think it might.
There is nothing perfect about this film, but it is something extremely special about it. The ending actually is so imperfect that it might as well be perfect - perfectly genuine. At the end the end the positive notion is that Jack has done the work, gone through the rehab, has a positive support structure, and has left behind a lasting legacy on the kids he coached throughout the film. It's not perfect, but it's still overall a positive.