‘The Way Back’ Begins with the Father’s Love

‘The Way Back’ Begins with the Father’s Love by  for The Gospel Coalition

The Way Back is another solid sports movie from writer/director Gavin O’Connor, who previously mined the intensity of hockey (2004’s Miracle) and MMA fighting (2011’s Warrior) to explore the larger dramas of life. But even as it releases in the basketball-saturated month of March, The Way Back should not be construed as a mere “basketball movie.” It’s one of the best movies of 2020 so far, period. Like all the best sports movies—from Friday Night Lights to Hoosiers to Field of Dreams—this one has more on its mind than the game clock and the scoreboard.

As its title would suggest, The Way Back is a story about second chances, redemption, and renewal; the path back to life after descending to the depths—not just for a sports team that has fallen on hard times, but for a man and his family who have fallen into despair.

Back From the Brink

The film follows Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), a middle-aged alcoholic who was once a great basketball player (offered a scholarship at the University of Kansas but turned it down). Separated from his wife (Janina Gavankar) and working construction as the film begins, Jack’s life is in a bad place. But then he receives a phone call, out of the blue, with an offer to coach basketball at his high school alma mater. Will this new opportunity provide a pathway (“the way back”) to a healthier life for Jack, or will his demons get the best of him? This question echoes the tension of Dennis Hopper’s “Shooter Flatch” character in Hoosiers, which remains the gold standard of high school basketball movies.

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Though the film has its fair share of sports movie cliches, it never veers into indulgent sentimentality. It’s a gritty, non-cheesy film (rated R for language) and one that channels Affleck’s own personal angst and mirrors his recovery journey. The actor has struggled with alcoholism himself and reportedly came directly from rehab to the film’s set. Jack’s search for the way back is probably a search Affleck can relate to, as can anyone who has found themselves in bouts of addiction or cycles of self-destructive behavior.

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