Affleck carries basketball redemption drama ‘The Way Back’


Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.


“The Way Back,” starring Ben Affleck as a high school basketball coach struggling with personal demons, overcomes a plot often lacking in originality to deliver a story with real emotional depth.

Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a construction worker who has a serious problem with alcohol—he drinks before, during and after work, and even makes sure to have a cold one stashed away for his morning shower. His friends and family worry about his drinking and his inability to face his internal struggles.

Cunningham is soon offered the position of basketball coach at Bishop Hayes High School mid-season, where he was a standout player years earlier and led the team to several state championships. He is reluctant to accept the job, as it’s clear that his basketball career came to an abrupt end, but he eventually relents and signs on.

The Bishop Hayes program is in bad shape when Cunningham arrives. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since his glory days and student interest had declined. The varsity squad has just six players and has won one game in the season.

In the early part of the film, I felt like I was watching a story that I’d seen unfold in numerous sports movies before: Coach takes over a struggling team, coach clashes with undisciplined players and changes the culture, team steadily improves and begins to win games.

However, as the plot progressed, it became clear that “The Way Back” isn’t really about basketball, it’s about Jack as a person. As we learned more about the protagonist’s past and the events that caused him such emotional turmoil, I found myself increasingly invested in the character and the story’s outcome. Affleck plays the part masterfully, perhaps due to his real-life experience with alcoholism, delivering powerful moments of anger and sadness throughout the film. Director Gavin O’Connor also doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh realities of addiction, and particularly avoids taking the easy way out towards the end of the movie.

Overall, “The Way Back” is a solid redemptive drama anchored by its star’s performance. It’s already been released digitally by Warner Bros. thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is certainly worth a watch.