Posts Tagged ‘Siberian gulag’

The Way Back

Posted: January 24, 2011 by aoifewantonmovielover in Film
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In a nutshell: It’s basically a long walk…a really long walk…for 4,000 miles. The Proclaimers ain’t got shit on these guys.

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Peter Weir is my kind of director. Not for him a movie every couple of years. The Aussie director of Dead Poet’s Society, Witness and The Truman Show picks and chooses his projects and it’s been an ice age since his last, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in 2003. Where better to kick off proceedings than a Siberian Gulag?

Adapted from Slawomir Rawicz’s memoir, appropriately entitled The Long Walk, The Way Back follows a Polish political prisoner and his fellow escapees in their bid to reach democracy. While the BBC largely debunked Rawicz’s version as a tall tale far more dramatic than what they believed actually happened – Rawicz leaving the Gulag in a prisoner exchange programme – this is still a remarkable piece of fiction.

Jim Sturgess tops the bill as Polish soldier Janusz, accused of espionage by the Soviets who falls in with actor inmate Mark Strong who dreams of escape. Determined to actually get over the fence, he makes the break with a mismatched gang of prisoners, including Ed Harris’ American ‘Mr Smith’ and Colin Farrell’s morally dubious career criminal.

While the initial break from the Gulag is a frantic race from the guards in a blizzard, the remainder is an almost leisurely meander – I guess 4,000 miles requires a certain amount of pacing – as the group face numerous challenges, both physical and emotional.

Both the pacing and the characterisation get a welcome boost from Saoirse Ronan’s runaway teenager Irena, bringing the group closer together by drawing out their back-stories.

The Way Back, made in conjunction with National Geographic, spans the amazing landscapes with visual impact but manages to refrain from reverting to sentimentality. However, as the group face the latest insurmountable hurdle in a series of insurmountable hurdles, you do get a certain sense of ‘not again’ and a creeping tedium seeps into the latter stages.

Uplifting and depressing in equal measures, The Way Back, whether based on fact or fiction, takes us into the darkest recesses of humanity and explores the power of hope and determination. Not exactly horrific viewing, but certainly challenging, it may not provide director Weir with a way back to the top of the box office, but it’s a welcome stroll with a great talent.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover