The Way Back is a dark film following a way back for Jack Cunningham played effectively by Ben Affleck from a time in which he relies on liquor to survive from day to day.
For Cunningham Booz is like a vaccination which holds off his depression which is caused partly from the loss of a child and his achieving his highest point in life when he was a high school basketball player.
The arc of his life has an opportunity for change when the principal of his old high school invites him to coach the very poor basketball team which has little success since he was a member of the team.
The body of the script revolves around Cunningham drinking each night and being helped up the stairs to his apartment. He battles with his sister and her family and has little relationship remaining with his divorced wife. He spends sixty-nine dollars on liquor for Thanksgiving mostly for his consumption. In fact director O’Connor spends excessive time showing his main character drinking one way or another.
The kids on the basketball team take to his leadership and become a stronger team, they even make the playoffs as we would expect in this type of film which has appeared on the screen many times.
The dark path Cunningham follows and the team victories are underwritten. We know what will happen to the team and Cunningham’s dark path is stretched beyond dramatic effect and is simply repetitious.
If we compare this to the disintegration of Jack Lemon in The Days of Wine and Roses, The Way Back has little effect as a drama.
It does have some quick comedy created by the colorful language used by Cunningham and the boys on the team, particularly when overheard by the priests who are part of the parish the team plays for.
Affleck gives us as much as possible but the script just isn’t effective enough.