‘The Way Back’ is an emotionally charged sports drama about second chances, and as the name suggests, finding one’s way back. The film portrays a gut-wrenching narrative of a grieving man, who has lost everything in life. It follows him on his path to redemption as he battles addiction and struggles with his own inner demons. The film is directed by Gavin O’Connor who is best known for ‘Warrior’, another riveting sports drama.
The sports drama stars Ben Affleck in the lead as Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic construction worker, who was once a local basketball star. Cunningham is never able to recover from the grief of losing his wife, and lives a life filled with sorrow and loneliness. But he gets his one last shot at redemption when he is offered to coach the basketball team at his alma mater.
The themes explored in ‘The Way Back’ gain relevance in a society like ours that is plagued with alcoholism as its people are haunted by regrets. Cunningham, as the working class middle-aged man, represents an everyman drowning his sorrows about the life that was, and the one that could have been. Interestingly, the original title of the film was ‘The Has-Been’ which captures this perfectly.
Since the narrative ‘The Way Back’ follows is so close to home, it’s natural to wonder what, or rather, who inspired it. The fact that it is being about a small-town basketball coach further makes one question if it could, in fact, be based on a real person. In case you’re wondering any of the above, we’re here to help. Here’s everything you need to know.
Is ‘The Way Back’ Based on a True Story?
To answer simply, no, ‘The Way Back’ is not based on a true story. However, it is closer to reality than you could possibly imagine. Gavin O’Connor is a former UPenn football star, who also played the sport through his high-school. The director’s best known works, ‘Warrior’ and ‘Miracle’, are interestingly, both gut-wrenching sports dramas that delicately tackle serious subjects. So, O’Connor making the film makes complete sense because of his own history and experience with the subject.
But that’s not the reason why ‘The Way Home’ hits home. While the film is not based on a true story, it closely mirrors Ben Affleck’s own inspiring recovery from alcoholism. Affleck has always been open about his longtime battle with addiction. But despite previous attempts at recovery, he relapsed around the time his marriage with Jennifer Garner apart fell apart. The two were officially divorced in 2018, the same year when ‘The Way Back’ was filmed. Read on for details.
Affleck’s Battle with Addiction
When Affleck had signed O’Connor’s film, he was on an early stage of recovery. It was later around the filming of ‘The Way Back’ that Affleck spent around forty days at an alcohol addiction treatment center. Interestingly, he got out of rehab on the very the day they started shooting the film.
O’Connor was initially unaware of Affleck’s relapse and recovery. But when he learned about it, he was slightly worried. Affleck, on the other hand, was willing to confront his own demons, and treated the film almost as therapy, stating that it was “cathartic”. In an interview with US Weekly he commented on how much he could connect to Cunningham’s character:
“There are things about this character I really could connect to: being a recovering alcoholic, going through family strife, a divorce.”
Ben Affleck believes he has certain regrets in life, but his decisions have only helped him grow into a better person. In an interview with New York Times, he admitted that his divorce with Jennifer Garner was his “biggest regret”. He also opened up about the role his alcoholism had in the divorce:
“I drank relatively normally for a long time…What happened was that I started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart…My drinking, of course, created more marital problems.”
While shooting a crucial moment in ‘The Way Back’, the actor broke down because of how personal it felt. It was, interestingly, a scene in which Jack Cunningham makes amends with his wife. In an interview with Associated Press, O’Connor explained how he didn’t include the take in the film as it felt “too personal”. He revealed what happened during the shoot:
“It was probably the second take, Ben just had a breakdown. I’m getting chills thinking about it. It was like the dam broke and everything came out…It was obviously real. A lot of things that he probably had to say in his own life, or maybe he had said, I don’t know.”
‘The Way Back’ also explores a complex father-son relationship, which a theme that O’Connor has also portrayed in his other two sports dramas, ‘Miracle’ and ‘Warrior’. This, too, bares some resemblance to Affleck’s own relationship with his father. The actor previously opened up about witnessing his own father’s struggle with alcoholism during his formative years, who eventually got sober. But this served as a lesson for Affleck who did not wish for his children to witness the same with him. ‘The Way Back’, then, offers a raw and inspiring tale about recovery, one that is rooted in reality despite its fictional premise.
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