The Way Back

Film, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)
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The Way Back
Peter Weir’s first film since 2003’s ‘Master and Commander’ hovers uncertainly between true-life tale and mythic odyssey. Polish soldier Slavomir Rawicz’s memoir ‘The Long Walk’ describes his 1940 escape from a Siberian gulag, across the Gobi desert and over the Himalayas, but subsequent doubts over its veracity means Weir uses fictionalised characters for his screen retelling. Compound this with a seeming disjuncture between the film’s portentous newsreel-heavy historical scene-setting and the elemental drama of the odyssey itself and the viewer is left unhelpfully foggy on where truth ends and dramatic licence begins.

Essentially, this undercuts the overall emotional impact, but on a scene-by-scene basis there are some marvellous things here, not least the extraordinary changing landscapes along the epic route. Snowy tundra and desert wastes leave the cast fighting for attention, yet in this expansive context it’s actually the intimately human moments that come off best. Jim Sturgess digs deeper than previously thought possible as the Polish leader of the escape party, matched by the cussed cynicism of Ed Harris’s ex-pat Yank, and indeed Colin Farrell’s canny turn as a potentially lethal criminal untroubled by his fellow fugitives’ political motives. Most affecting is Saoirse Ronan’s waif-like interloper as the going gets seriously tough and Big Questions enter the frame – where’s the line between compassion and self-preservation? Why, in essence, do we live? Weir certainly earns the right to ponder these issues, yet for all the film’s occasional peaks, we’re left with the sense of a story so incredible even this cinematic visionary is struggling to contain it on celluloid.

By: Trevor Johnston

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Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Sunday December 26 2010
Duration: 132 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Peter Weir
Screenwriter: Keith R. Clarke, Peter Weir, Slavomir Rawicz
Cast: Colin Farrell
Ed Harris
Jim Sturgess
Saoirse Ronan