The plot follows Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), who we see at the beginning of the film as a lonely construction worker who does not give up alcohol and is dead drunk every night. The plot arises when a priest invites him to coach the local high school basketball team. Jack was a basketball talent and left a big mark playing for that team – his glory days are long gone, but it turns out they’re not forgotten. Jack will reluctantly accept the offer, and as the team progresses, so will he get a chance for ultimate redemption…
As a rule, sports dramas are predictable movies, but they are also one of the most popular genres because it is in the nature of most people to root for someone to succeed, especially if that someone had little chance of success. We all know a movie in which a sports team is not good, but gets better with the arrival of a coach and everything important happens on the field or some other place where the team has its matches. The team is more important than the individual, all lessons are learned during the game, and the coach provides inspiring advice that indirectly always has some important life lesson.
The movie The Way Back is about a basketball team that doesn’t even deserve to see more details from their first game, we only get to know the final result – a convincing defeat. Jack is certainly not the type of coach described in the previous paragraph because he tries to shake up his players by making noise and insulting the referees, as if he can’t wait for everything to be over so he can go back to drinking. Although his methods are debatable in a Catholic school, he teaches his players that small details make a difference, that they should use the shortcomings to their advantage and use a strategy in which the deficit is not made up all at once but little by little.
Given that a convincing defeat is the first thing we see from a team in which our protagonist is a coach, it is quite understandable to expect the story to follow a well-known formula. However, over time we realize that sport is secondary in this film, that basketball is not that important here because what is important is the coach himself, that is, the character of Jack. A lot has happened to him since his glorious high school days, mostly bad things, resulting in alcoholism and separation from his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar). In his self-destructive routine, we are just silent observers, and the problem is that Jack himself doesn’t realize that he has a problem.
What started as his all-night thinking about how to turn down an offer eventually becomes serious business. The sports side of the story progresses as we expect, the team gets its star, gets better and Jack’s coaching skills lead to a successful season. However, all that is in the background, the focus of the story is on Jack as we gradually discover his story and his past. Successes on the basketball court are not as important as his small victories, such as becoming less isolated from people or finding a purpose in his life.
Affleck’s muted performance suggests a combination of sadness, despair and pain just bubbling beneath the surface of his face, so it’s clear that he’s drawn on his own life experiences to achieve authenticity. He gives the impression of a realistic knowledge of the anxiety and self-deception that dominate his character’s life, it is clear that working on this film was very important to him and he gave his all. Affleck has struggled with addiction for the past few years, which resulted in a divorce, and after coming out of the Batman costume and the desperate Netflix thriller he did, this film comes as a return to the path of success.