The Way Back (2020) Analysis – Don’t Underestimate The Impact!


The Way Back is a sports drama film starring Ben Affleck, directed by Gavin O’Connor and written by Brad Ingelsby. The story follows an alcoholic construction worker, Jack Cunningham played by Ben Affleck who is called upon to become the head coach of a basketball team at the high school he used to attend.

Jack Cunningham’s journey from an ardent alcoholic to finally moving forward in life forgetting the past, is what the film majorly deals with. The film is packed with some excellent feel-good moments, layered with Affleck’s witty, subtle humor, making it one of the best flicks of 2020 so far.

Deep Analysis of Ben Affleck Character

Ben Affleck started his journey as a screenwriter bagging an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, and thus his sense of screenplay has always influenced his choice of Acting Roles. The Way Back falls in the same zone as it beautifully explores Jack Cunningham’s character arc from a destroyed alcoholic to a man picking up his passion again.

As the movie initiates – Affleck’s Character is itchy and vulnerable against anyone who pinpoints his drinking habits, and as an audience, we are not in love with his character. But Affleck through his ace performance quickly grabs us in a very subtle witty scene, where Bishop offers him a position at the high school as the basketball coach and he finds ways to reject the proposal. At night, while formulating phrases on how to say no to Bishop, Jack gulps down a can of beer, to invent a new excuse, which defines his nature of a hardcore alcoholic and his incompetence to handle emotional stress. However, the sparks of his outstanding performance are visible in the change of his character with each new “can” going down his system, where he finally ends the scene with the line he speaks to himself.

“Father, I’ve given it a lot of thought. I just have no interest in coaching your basketball team.

Jack, at first, is uninterested in being a coach to some pathetic high school boys, but something in him changes when he looks back at his own journey as a basketball player in high school. Remorse and Guilt from Jack’s past life plays an important role in shaping his character, and this detail is beautifully explored in a scene where the priest tells Jack that

“I do think God really gives a sh*t about the example you set for these young men. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have on them.”

Jack’s character graph from being a short-tempered itchy character to a vulnerable divorcee father who lost his kid and resorted to alcoholism is a key element of the film. Traditionally, in a film, filmmakers start with creating an emotional empathy for the character but in The Way Back, this affinity towards the character is established as the movie progresses, which acts like chiseling the character layer by layer, which makes Affleck’s portrayal of Jack, a treat to watch.

Haunted by his own demons and having a father complex fueled his dependency on drugs and alcohol, which led him to drop basketball totally.

“I never picked up a basketball again.”

His condition worsened as he lost his own kid, and from there on, it’s all downhill, but getting back to the game again as the basketball coach brings back hope for him. This silver lining is approached gracefully in the last scene of the picture.

Whoever saves another Human’s Dream, Saves his own.

Jack, who dropped his own passion in high school, supports his new student Brandon Durrett to preserve his dream who wants to play basketball for all his life. He talks to Brandon’s father to let him play basketball and choose it as a career, which initially doesn’t have any effect on Brandon’s dad. Brandon finally winning over, in a knockout rematch against Memorial, gives us a little hope which is charmingly harvested in the concluding scenes of the film, the only sequence that makes your eyes teary.

Alcohol Abuse or Alcohol Dependence?

Films are a medium that explores the subtle differences in the so-called generalized words. While some people resort to drugs and alcohol for their own amusement, there are some who use it as a gateway to eradicate their sensibility and vulnerability, in short, to keep their sanity maintained. This theme has been underlined in the film at quite a few moments, when Jack, totally in a vulnerable state, not able to face emotional stress, picks up a bottle, to sleep over the pain.

The Way Back is an engaging approach to fight some established notions of the society over Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence in which a man fights “his way back” to regain sobriety. Jack finally learns that our actions affect our close ones and we really have no control over our past, thus the only way out is to move forward. His therapist ends the scene through an arresting line,

We can’t change the past, Jack. What we can do is choose how we move forward.

The Way Back is streaming on HBO Max.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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