The Way Back (2020 film)

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The Way Back
The Way Back poster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGavin O'Connor
Written byBrad Ingelsby
Produced by
CinematographyEduard Grau
Edited byDavid Rosenbloom
Music byRob Simonsen
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • March 6, 2020 (2020-03-06)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$21–25 million[1][2]
Box office$15.5 million[3]

The Way Back (titled Finding the Way Back in the United Kingdom) is a 2020 American sports drama film directed by Gavin O'Connor and written by Brad Ingelsby. It stars Ben Affleck in the title role, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, and Janina Gavankar, and follows an alcoholic construction worker who is recruited to become head coach of the basketball team at the high school where he was a star.

The film was theatrically released in the United States on March 6, 2020, by Warner Bros. Pictures. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic causing movie theaters across the globe to close, Warner Bros. made the film available to own digitally on March 24, 2020. The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with Affleck's performance receiving praise. However, the film suffered at the box office due to COVID-19 because it was only in theaters for two weeks.


Jack Cunningham is an alcoholic ironworker who is separated from his wife, Angela. While at Thanksgiving dinner with his family, they express concern about his drinking and isolating habits. The next day, Jack receives a call from Father Devine at his former Catholic high school, Bishop Hayes. Devine asks him to step in as the school's basketball coach, as the previous coach has suffered a heart attack. Jack is introduced to assistant coach and algebra teacher Dan, as well as the team members. He learns that Bishop Hayes has not gone to the playoffs since he was a student, and that interest has dropped significantly, leaving the team with only six varsity players.

The team is initially annoyed by Jack's stricter practices and aggressive attitude, but soon grow to respect him. The team improves and Jack begins to bond with the players. His drinking decreases, and he begins to spend more time with his family and friends. Jack and Angela attend a birthday party together for David, the son of their friend Miguel. It is revealed that Jack and Angela had a son, Michael, who died from cancer. David and Michael were in the hospital together; David is now in remission.

Affected by the birthday party and memories of his son, Jack protests a call at a game. This results in Jack being ejected. After the game, Jack reveals to one of his players that Jack's father was neglectful, only paying attention to him due to his basketball talent. As a result, Jack turned down a full athletic scholarship to the basketball program at the University of Kansas, and has not played basketball since.

The team's final game of the season is a rematch with Memorial, the top-ranked team. Bishop Hayes completes the victory to clinch a playoff berth. Later, Jack receives a call from Angela, telling him David has been hospitalized. While visiting, Jack and Angela overhear a doctor informing David's parents his cancer has returned. The sight of their grief disturbs Jack, who leaves the hospital and begins drinking again.

The following morning, Jack arrives to practice late and drunk; Dan informs Father Devine, who fires Jack, telling him he is unable to trust him with the team. This causes Jack to spiral further. One night, while driving drunk with a woman he met at a bar, Jack rear-ends a boat hitched to a parked car. The woman flees, telling him to enter her house through the back, but Jack enters the wrong house and is confronted by its occupant. Jack attempts to leave before the police arrive, but the confrontation becomes physical, causing him to fall and be knocked unconscious.

Jack awakens in the hospital where he is met by his sister, who demands that he get help for his alcoholism. Jack begins to attend therapy and starts to open up about his son's death. He meets with Angela and apologizes for his past mistakes. The Bishop Hayes team dedicates their first playoff game to Jack. Meanwhile, at an outdoor court, Jack picks up a basketball and practices shooting.



On June 11, 2018, it was announced that director Gavin O'Connor and actor Ben Affleck were going to re-team on a Warner Bros. drama film, titled The Has-Been, scripted by Brad Ingelsby about a former basketball star who has lost his wife and family foundation because of an addiction, and he attempts to regain his soul by becoming the coach of a high school basketball team at his alma mater.[4] On September 26, 2018, it was reported that comedian Al Madrigal had joined the cast of the film, now known as Torrance, to play Dan, a well mannered high school mathematics teacher and the school's assistant coach who believes in Affleck's character after the head coach quits. Producers would be Jennifer Todd, Gordon Gray, Ravi Mehta, and O'Connor.[5] In October 2018, Janina Gavankar joined the cast of the film.[6] In November 2018, Brandon Wilson and Rachael Carpani joined the cast of the film.[7][8] In July 2019, it was announced the title of the film was The Way Back.[9] In August 2019, it was announced Rob Simonsen would score the film.[10] Affleck spoke on how the film acted as a form of therapy for him following his own stints with alcoholism and rehab.[2]


Principal photography began in October 2018 around the San Pedro and Long Beach neighborhood of Los Angeles.[11] Much of the interior shots were filmed in the Chaffey High School gym in Ontario, California.


The film was originally scheduled to be released on October 18, 2019.[12] However, in March 2019, it was pushed back several months to March 6, 2020.[13]

On March 19, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that the film would be available digitally in the United States and Canada through Premium VOD on March 24 due to movie theaters closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. This was just two weeks after the film's theatrical debut and before the end of the usual 90-day theatrical run.[14] Another film distributed by the studio, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, was also released earlier than expected for the same reason.[15] The film was released on Blu-ray, and DVD on May 19, 2020.[16]


Box office[edit]

The Way Back grossed $13.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $1.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $15.5 million,[3] against a production budget of $21–25 million.[1][2]

In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Onward and the wide expansion of Emma, and was projected to gross $7–10 million from 2,718 theaters in its opening weekend.[17] It made $2.6 million on its first day. The film went on to debut to $8.5 million, finishing third at the box office.[1] The film fell 70% in its second weekend to $2.4 million, finishing seventh, largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.[18]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Way Back holds an approval rating of 84% based on 215 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The Way Back's occasionally frustrating treatment of a formulaic story is often outweighed by Ben Affleck's outstanding work in the central role."[19] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[20] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, and PostTrak reported it received an average 3.5 out of 5 stars from viewers they polled, with 54% saying they would definitely recommend it.[1]

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "Affleck gives the impression of intimate familiarity with the anguish and self-disgust that dominate Jack's life; this character and project clearly meant something important to him, as the title bluntly suggests, and he gives it his all without overdoing the melodrama."[21] Owen Gleiberman of Variety said that "Ben Affleck is compelling in a drama of addiction and redemption that plays off his own tabloid odyssey. But the tabloid version was better."[22]


  1. ^ a b c d D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 8, 2020). "'Onward' Seeing Blasé $40M Domestic Opening, $68M WW: Are Coronavirus Fears Impacting B.O.? – Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 8, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Barnes, Brooks (February 18, 2020). "Ben Affleck Tried to Drink Away the Pain. Now He's Trying Honesty". New York Times. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "The Way Back (2020)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  4. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr (June 11, 2018). "Hot Spec Package: Ben Affleck, Gavin O'Connor Re-Team On Brad Ingelsby Script 'The Has-Been'". Deadline. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  5. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 26, 2018). "'Night School's Al Madrigal In Talks For Warner Bros.' 'Torrance'". Deadline. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  6. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 17, 2018). "Janina Gavankar Joining Warner Bros' 'Torrance' Opposite Ben Affleck". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  7. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 9, 2018). "Katherine McNamara Boards Charlie Day's 'El Tonto'; Brandon Wilson Joins Warner Bros.' 'Torrance'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  8. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (November 20, 2018). "Zackary Momoh Joins 'Doctor Sleep'; Ben Affleck's 'Torrance' Film Cast Rachael Carpani". Deadline. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  9. ^ "The Way Back". Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  10. ^ "Rob Simonsen Scoring Gavin O'Connors The Way Back". FilmMusicReporter. August 5, 2019. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  11. ^ Seemyer, Zack (October 23, 2018). "Ben Affleck Looks Happy and Healthy On Set Filming Movie About Addiction Following His Stay in Rehab". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  12. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 5, 2019). "Ben Affleck Warner Bros. Movie 'The Way Back' Moves To March". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  13. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 22, 2019). "Warner Bros. Release Date Changes: 'The Goldfinch' Goes Earlier In Fall, 'Superintelligence' Shifts & Ben Affleck Drama Dated". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  14. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 19, 2020). "Ben Affleck Drama 'The Way Back' Heads Into Homes As Theaters Close". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  15. ^ "Warner Bros. Releases "The Way Back" and "Birds of Prey" on Digital March 24". Warner Bros. Pictures. Burbank, California. March 19, 2020. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  16. ^ "The Way Back DVD Release Date | Redbox, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon".
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony; Tartaglione, Nancy (March 3, 2020). "Disney-Pixar's 'Onward' Eyes $100M Global Start, Even With Coronavirus Concerns". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 4, 2020.
  18. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (March 15, 2020). "Weekend Box Office Headed To 22-Year-Low At $58M+ As Coronavirus Fears Grip Nation". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 15, 2020.
  19. ^ "The Way Back (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  20. ^ "The Way Back Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  21. ^ McCarthy, Todd (March 4, 2020). "'The Way Back' Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  22. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (March 4, 2020). "Ben Affleck in 'The Way Back': Film Review". Variety. Retrieved March 4, 2020.

External links[edit]