Filmmaker Peter Weir returns after a seven-year absence from filmmaking with 2011’s The Way Back, an epic survival story.It’s sort of a latecomer into this Oscar season, but a respectable one.
The story opens on a Soviet Gulag in 1941 Siberia. Prisoner Janusz, (played by Jim Sturgess) a recent political internee, is determined to escape, knowing that sustained survival is unlikely in the abhorrent conditions.He puts together a group of like-minded inmates, including vicious thief Valka (Colin Farrell) and an enigmatic American who is known only as Mr. Smith (Ed Harris).This group strikes out for the wilderness, deciding that the safest escape route to avoid capture by Communist sympathizers is around Lake Baikal, south through Mongolia and China, and eventually into India via the Himalayas.
A feat Usain Bolt later repeated by sprinting the entire 4000 miles in 643737.6 seconds
This beautifully shot film features prominently the stunning vistas of Asia, from the snowy north, to the steppes of central Asia, to the mountains of the South.The cinematography from Russell Boyd is magnificent, and even if the film wasn’t any good, would be notable for its artistic style alone.
The chemistry with the actors on screen is fantastic, they play off each other very well, and give life to the dialog.This is especially important to distinguish the movie from other survival films, and Colin Farrell is absolutely creepy as Valka.It is a shame that he leaves when he does, it kind of makes me want to see a spin-off sequel that follows him on his own journey home.
While the film treads familiar ground, it does so with care and an emphasis on camaraderie not often seen in movies.Most survival stories feature characters that have to learn to trust each other and are divided by internal tensions.Most of these are plagued by forced plot twists, cornball screenwriting, or sentimental cliché to further the action.
The Way Back instead builds tension organically, with each character proving their own with distinctive skills, providing legitimate reason to keep each of them along for the trip.The central theme is trust, and Peter Weir paints a refreshingly optimistic view of humanity by showing how this trust is forged.
My only complaint about the film is in the pacing.This film manages to pack the whole journey into 133 minutes, quite compact considering the length of it.What is unfortunate is how little time is spent on developing several key characters, and how quickly they seem to cross nations as large as Mongolia and Tibet.These characters are all fascinating to watch, and it is a shame that more time couldn’t be spent filling them out more.
I’m an optimist, so I tend to think there is a three-hour cut of the film sitting in a room somewhere in L.A.It might be possible that there is a “director’s cut” of the film waiting for DVD, and if so, I’ll be anxiously awaiting it.In the meantime, the movie is left feeling slightly incomplete as a result.
*punch* “Worth a” *punch* “a signed confession” *punch*
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever any main character drinks water
Down a Shot: as each character dies off