May 14, 2011


The Way Back is Peter Weir’s own journey back to the cinema screen, having been absent since 2003’s Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. And even then, his last big “hit” was 1998’s The Truman Show. I find it somewhat interesting that this is the first Weir film I’ve ever seen in the cinema; he’s hardly the most prolific film-maker and his last two, for one reason or another, just didn’t appeal at the time. With his new film, he purports to tell the tale of a group of men who escaped from a vicious Soviet gulag and walked thousands of miles to freedom. There has been some doubt cast on the “truthiness” of this tale, but when has the truth ever stood in the way of a good story?

What does, however, get in the way of a good story (or, at least, one’s enjoyment of it) is having to sit next to a Movie Talker. Yes, the woman I was sitting next to was someone who talked throughout the film – not to a friend or anyone, as she was sitting on the end of a row by herself. No, she was either a) talking to herself or b) the movie. Actually conversing with the film. And I didn’t feel like I could tell her to shut it as I don’t think she realized what she was doing. Ah, problems such as these…

The film itself is solid enough, with the required beautiful landscape photography from cinematographer Russell Boyd and fine performances from the entire cast (including Weir regular, the non-more grizzled Ed Harris). Jim Sturgess, who’s been popping up in a fair few films lately, is Janusz; a Pole who is sent off to a Siberian Gulag after a “confession” of his guilt is forced from his wife. He’s your typical unflagging hero, and Sturgess carries the weight of the film admirably. As mentioned, Harris is grizzled and ornery as Mr. Smith; he's the veteran survivor of the Gulag, carrying a tragic history. Colin Farrell is the ruthless and petty thug Valka, who loves Russia despite being tossed in a Gulag and just wants a man to lead him. One of the few actual Eastern Europeans in the film, Dragos Bucur (Police, Adjective; The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) is the comedian of the group, Zoran. And Saoirse Ronan is a young girl who joins up with them on their trek, melting Mr. Smith’s exterior and helping all the men to learn more about one another. Yes, they’re all largely types serving a story purpose more than anything, but they all work so well together and, oddly perhaps, help to lend the film its old school feel. 

This is not an escape film, like The Great Escape. This is not about planning and building up to the big break-out; this is about what happens after. This is a film that focuses on the plodding determination of a group of men fleeing though no-one is chasing them (though, yes, they have to avoid the authorities), across vast tracts of land. It's an interesting approach to the "escape film" and it becomes something of an endurance to get through, just as it is for these men (and girl). You know that not everyone is going to make it and part of the expereince becomes guessing who's going to fall by the wayside first. Some characters become easier to relate to and care about, with a lot of the early deaths coming when it's hard to distinguish between them.

The Way Back is a solid film, with an incredible story and stunning vistas at its centre. It begins to drag in places, not helped by an emotional distance to the journey but Jim Sturgess, on the strength of this alone, deserves to be getting more leading roles.

And that marks my final film of the World Cinema Showcase for 2011. Apologies for the delay in the write-up, but I hope you've enjoyed reading these. Coming up soon: Thor, Duncan Jones' sophomore film Source Code and the insanity of the V48 Hours Furious Filmmaking Competition!

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