The Way Back
- Director:Peter Weir
- Cast:Colin Farrell, Ed Harris
- Release Date:February 24, 2011
- Running time:133 minutes
- Film Worth:$12.50
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Despite an epic premise and the fine talent involved, the characters are under-written and the drama never soars.
The Way Back - Australian filmmaker Peter Weir's first film since 2003's Master And Commander - is based on a supposedly true book by Slavomir Rawicz, about his escape from a Siberian gulag during WW2 and subsequent supposed 4,500-mile trek to safety in India. Unfortunately, a BBC doco suggests that he may well have lied, and simply been released as part of an amnesty. But the shortcomings of this film have nothing to do with veracity; if anything, invention should have ensured an interesting plot - it just hasn't.
The story starts in Siberia in 1940. Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is an innocent Pole who arrives in one of Stalin's hellish prison camps, naturally wants out, and organises his escape. He's accompanied by six other men, including a brutal Russian thief called Valka (Colin Farrell) and an enigmatic American emigre known only as Mr. Smith (Ed Harris). What follows is a sustained battle against the elements, first of course in Siberia - there's an effective scene where a man freezes to death, hallucinating - and then in Mongolia and Tibet. Extreme cold gives way to the extreme heat of The Gobi Desert, and the only constant is the desperate search for food and water.
Ed Harris and Colin Farrell (who gets written out of the story fairly early, and for no apparent reason) are both good here. And the terrain is of course visually striking, even if a few of the augmenting CGI effects are too obvious.
But the drama goes nowhere (except geographically), most of the characters are under-written, and when they do express themselves, they tend to make improbably portentous statements. Random oscillation between English and subtitled Russian or Polish doesn't help the suspension of disbelief either. The whole thing adds up to a trudge - figuratively as well as literally.