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The Way Back
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Four-time Oscar nominee, Ed Harris (Apollo 13), Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges) star in this epic saga of survival from six-time Oscar-nominee Peter Weir (Witness, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Inspired by an incredible true story, The Way Back begins in 1940 when seven prisoners attempt the impossible: escape from a brutal Siberian gulag. Thus begins a treacherous 4,500-mile trek to freedom across the world's most merciless landscapes. They have little food and few supplies. They don't know or trust each other. But together, they must withstand nature at its most extreme. Their humanity is further tested when they meet a teenage runaway who begs to join them on their quest. A compelling testament to the human spirit, this gripping wilderness adventure is "Peter Weir at his hypnotic best" (Telluride Film Festival).
The title The Way Back takes on an epic grandeur when you consider that the "way" stretches from a Soviet prison camp somewhere deep in World War II Siberia all the way across the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas to India. This is the route walked by a group of escapees in Peter Weir's utterly gripping movie, which joins the list of cinema's great tales of incredible endurance across inhospitable places. The movie is drawn from a book by Slavomir Rawicz, which was originally released as nonfiction but has subsequently had its veracity substantially debunked (Weir proceeded with the film as a dramatized story because of an account that three people really had survived a similar trek during the war). The escapees include a Polish political prisoner (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe), a Russian criminal (Colin Farrell), and an American (Ed Harris) who was caught working in Moscow when war broke out. Along with a few others, they break out of the gulag into a blizzard--it will cover their tracks in the snow--and along the 4,000-mile odyssey pick up a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) who also has reasons to flee the Soviet Union. This material was made for Peter Weir: the director's measured pace and near-physical sense of landscape gives the film an inexorable forward motion, yet nothing is rushed. And, whether crossing desert or dense forest, the film's purpose is to test how individual humanity might survive in extremity--in other words, despite the large canvas, the tiniest issues are very much in the foreground. And that, too, makes it a film by Peter Weir. --Robert Horton
Behind the Scenes Featurette
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Top Customer Reviews
But the end of 2010 gave us hope for the next decade, with several strong releases, most notably this powerful offering from master film-maker Peter Weir (Gallipoli, Dead Poets Society, Fearless). Weir is at the top of his game, taking us on a journey which, despite its two-hour length, seems to end all too soon. As we follow a group of desperate Gulag escapees battling the cruel and beautiful indifference of nature, we witness not only an incredible story of human endurance, but also the true value of freedom and the price one is willing to pay for it. The performances were nearly perfect - Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, and Jim Sturgess are particularly brilliant. The characters are kept somewhat at a distance; we learn only enough about them as to establish a strong connection and human element, as we watch this band of relative strangers create intense bonds with each other during the ordeal. The dialogue is minimal but effective, giving the film a more realistic feel over-all. Cinematographer Russell Boyd, who has worked with Weir on such exquisite films as Gallipoli and Picnic at Hanging Rock, engulfs us in a stunning palette of landscapes across an epic expanse of Asia, from the snow-driven forest of Siberia to the vast emptiness of the Gobi Desert. The cinematography alone makes this film worth the price to see it on a large theater screen, if you can.
Leaving the theater after this film, I truly felt a resurgence of faith in American film. Hopefully we won't have to wait another decade for another great Peter Weir film! The cast and crew of The Way Back have given audiences a wonderful gift, and I thank them for it.
The cinematography is suitably sumptuous but in no way artificially gorgeous. There is bleakness as well as beauty in the images. The story and characters take second place to the forces of nature. This might be the lethal ingredient to many viewers and their potential engagement with this film. The main character Janusz has a back story and a character arc, but the others are fuzzily sketched. The talents of Ed Harris are mostly wasted but I suppose it's better to have him more in the background instead of how Harris typically dominates his movies with his shouting and lapses into anger. I thought Colin Farrell was miscast as a Russian criminal who provides a bit of comic mischief but the young Saoirse Ronan makes an impression as the lost young girl.
The main message of this film apart from the man versus nature dynamic is the idea that it's better to die a free man than live as a prisoner. Imagine having a sentence in one of those Siberian prisons. Making a break for it even with the high chance of death is preferable in my mind to a dull life of drudgery in this far off prison. Better to die in an icy forest or the rain starved desert die than working in a coal mine against your will. I wouldn't rank "The Way Back" as one of Peter Weir's best films but it's a respectable effort nonetheless, more worthy of a cinemagoer's time and money than a lot of content in theatrical release right now.