A pleasant surprise, I watched THE WAY BACK starring Ben Affleck last night. Turned out to be solid film, a story of a grieving father with a drinking problem presented with a chance to redeem himself by becoming head coach for his old high school basket ball team. All the expected moves are here given that alcoholism is the basis for the fiction-- scenes of the gloom and despair and ruinous drinking, the lies, the family squabbles, the bitter meetings with the former wife, the chance for a new leaf, the encouraging progress on all the characters' issues, the Fall,the climb back up. The director does not glorify the gloom, wallow in the despair, preach about the cure as one might expect given the creaky cliches that threaten to capsize this film, but rather maintains a sturdy hand in developing characters, filming some excellent game sequences (that brought a smile to my face when the fictional team started winning), and allowing a certain amount of space between lines of dialogue or interactions to have scenes have a naturally laconic, realistic edge. The cast is universally strong, though one should look for any deep diving into character analysis; matters of the heart and soul are sufficiently laid out on the surface , more than adequately diving us pretext and context for this well handled drama. It's not giving anything major away to mention that the wayfaring coach and problem drinker is shown here getting a handle on his sobriety and commences to live a life with guarded optimism and realistic expectations--remember, genre movies behave in predictable ways--but I do find it a relief that the film makers side step the whole support group element--AA sharing, the God talk stuff--and stay with the narrative at hand. Though the story isn't as efficient as it could be, it is wisely lean in the telling, which is not to say it's skimpy. Especially for a film with a Catholic School and priests figuring largely through out, all the spiritual awakening issues, if there are any , are off screen. There is a quibble with some inconsistency with the narrative pace and flow, though, as the film gets distracted with scenes that are not needed, or followed up upon, but Ben Affleck's performance, sullen, gloomy, melancholic with convincing bits of better moods and motivations , is rather masterful and cumulatively powerful, one of his career best. Worth a watch.