“It’s just another Hoosiers…” – Nope.
You might be tempted to think that after watching the trailers. You might be tempted to think that at 25 different points during the movie. There are similarities and parallel story points—for sure.

There are also some pretty big differences.

Hoosiers, Rudy, and Space Jam are (debatably) the most beloved sports movies of all time. While one might dare to poke fun at Michael Jordan or Sean Astin (lightweight hacks!), Gene Hackman’s performance in Hoosiers is considered sacred in the canons of sports theater. Although I wasn’t a huge basketball enthusiast in the 80’s, this movie is one of my top 3 memorable movies from that era.

The Way Back trailers put me in a weird mood when discussing the option to see this one. On one hand, there’s been a lot of press about Ben Affleck and his personal problems lately—and there’s a pretty clear parallel between his personal life and some of the themes of this movie. On the other hand, the trailers make it look like it MIGHT be a Hoosiers remake of some sort. On the third hand, I wasn’t very impressed with Batman (and a whole bunch of 90’s movies with Affleck.) On the fourth hand, there have been some good Affleck moments in other things.

For me, this movie seemed authentic. It wasn’t Hoosiers, and it wasn’t a sports movie.

To avoid getting into spoiler territory, there’s probably not much more to say here to explain that last statement.

I walked away from the theater not knowing how I felt about the story in general or the ending, and a few days later am still wondering.

There have been a few movies that have had this effect on me (and not because of parallel themes or similarities). One that really stands out as having a similar effect was Manchester by the Sea—thought provoking and introspective. While neither of these was necessarily a surprise ending, I didn’t forsee the endings either—neither followed the traditional Hollywood script patterns.

Knowing a little about the background of the movie, Affleck’s personal life, and how the two came together, there is some deep irony in the plot and execution. The authenticity of the performances, characters, and plot were all enhanced by knowing a little about Affleck’s situation.

My gripes with Affleck in his early career mostly came from his overall tone and posture—he seemed less like he was acting, and more like he was just rushing the lines to get through them quickly and get onto the next thing. While I’m sure Affleck’s maturity as an actor is a large part of the differences with this latest performance, it really feels like there’s a humility in his performance that isn’t being acted or faked.

I walked away from this one wondering if I might want to get to know Ben Affleck—he might just be a real person…