When the audience is introduced to Affleck's Jack, he's a solitary figure who pours beers into a soda cup after his manual labor job. He sips that on the way to the bar. He has another beer in the shower. Drinking is part of the fabric of his life. It's not debilitating enough at this point that his caring family members, like his sister (Michaela Watkins), feel they need to mount a campaign to stop his consumption, but it's ever present.
A call from the priest at his old Catholic high school is the catalyst that disrupts the monotony of his days. The basketball team's coach has been forced to retire, and the school wants Jack to step in. That night, we watch as Jack goes through a case of beer in a single night, deliberating over to how to turn the offer down. Every time he grabs a beer from the freezer, he methodically replaces it with a new one from the fridge until they are all gone. That sequence is a subtly brutal depiction of the rituals of alcoholism, evident of the nuanced way Affleck and O'Connor have chosen to handle the subject matter. The next day, Jack shows up for practice.
He finds a team in shambles. Still, his lackluster commitment to the job starts to shift as he identifies talent in the players and his own competitive drive kicks in. The scrappy-team-makes-good trope is a well-worn one, and The Way Back hits recognizable, satisfying beats as it charts Bishop Hayes' run to the playoffs. But every victory is seen through the prism of Jack's uneasy recovery. The team does not solve his problems, even though it gives him something to wake up for in the morning. When old pain reemerges, Jack is powerless to beat it back.