Movie Plot – The Way Back: Jack Cunningham once led a promising life. In high school, he was a top basketball player with a full scholarship in his pocket, but let his future slip out of his hands. Years later, after an unbearable loss, he goes downhill and suffers from alcohol addiction. Then he is asked to coach a basketball team at his former high school, which starts to give his life some hope and shine again.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar
First, some backstory
For Ben Affleck, the last decade contained a beautiful first half. His third child was born and Argo gave him a second Oscar. However, the second half was significantly less: his marriage failed, Live by Night was a costly flop, the MeToo discourse didn’t spare him and that Batman adventure didn’t quite work out the way he probably imagined it.
To make matters worse, his previously contained alcohol addiction made a comeback, which added to the already frequent paparazzi circling around him. After such image-damaging phases in life, most Hollywood stars try to avoid any association with this in their choice of roles. However, Affleck did it differently. He wasn’t afraid to show his problems and made a movie in which he can relate.
The reason I wanted to see this movie was because I knew about Ben Affleck’s alcohol addiction. And I was really curious about it. I also appreciate that Ben Affleck uses his weakness to tell a story. He reveals himself to us, and I think that’s a powerful thing about him. Also, he’s already familiar with the movie’s director Gavin O’Connor. They’ve already done a movie together, namely “The Accountant.“
At the start of The Way Back, Jack Cunningham is in a similar lifestyle as his actor. Now that his marriage is over, he is an unknown construction worker during the day. However, in the evening, he’s a regular at a bar where practically everyone knows him by name. Most of the time, people have to bring him home because he just can’t stand anymore.
And that’s not the only place where he drinks. He also relaxes a bit during working hours or when he is at home alone. And with relaxing, I mean drinking.
Here Affleck shows that he truly is a great actor. His personal life experiences allowed him to empathize with the role of coach Jack easily. A tormented person who, after a heavy loss, lost everything and took refuge in the drink. Something Affleck has experience with as he has repeatedly visited the inside of a rehab center. Probably that’s why the scenes where he drinks himself lavishly look so realistic. As well as the way he behaves when he’s not in a pub. The manipulation, the sneaking around and the search for excuses. Typical behavior of an addict who tries to hide his weakness. “The Way Back” tries to depict this addiction in detail.
The Way Back to Basketball
There’s little that reminds one of Jack’s glory days as a star player on his high school basketball team with his lousy lifestyle. Yet it turns out he hasn’t been completely forgotten yet when his old principal asks him to come and coach the current basketball team. It is never explicitly stated why Jack takes this job, but you realize that his life is on a dead-end and could use some change, and so does he.
Even though he isn’t ready to say goodbye to the booze yet. Taking the job turns out to be a good choice, because while the team under his leadership is getting better and is actually starting to win games, Jack is getting his life back on track.
Ben Affleck knows how to find a good balance between youthful enthusiasm and aggressive frustration as a coach. That keeps you on your guard, instead of quietly leaning back in the confidence that Jack will be all right now. What also makes this film great is that his coaching qualities are not limited to inspiring speeches (although there are plenty of them), but his knowledge of the game is mainly used.
What also makes this film special, besides the fact that Ben Affleck is very experienced in that lifestyle, is that the film is unpredictable. You would think that it is predictable. However, the film manages to give it a more realistic approach. Not everything seems to be rainbow and sunshine. And frankly, I thought this was a risky move, but it was definitely worth it. However, few would say the opposite here.
The Way Back is a movie that is very focused on Ben Affleck’s character. It is a way back to a better life. Yes, he coaches a basketball team, but it’s more about his personal evolution. Highly recommended, especially for people with alcohol problems!