Based on the bestselling book “The Long Walk,” THE WAY BACK is an incredible piece of filmmaking. You often take for granted that every shot in a movie like this had to be painstakingly scouted and filmed on location. As a “journey” movie, Weir and company set the story against hundreds of amazing backdrops in multiple countries, from snowy wilderness to harsh deserts to dangerous mountainsides. From a visual standpoint it’s absolutely impressive. But as beautiful as the nature scenery is to look at, it’s equally just as deadly and the compelling drama doesn’t let you forget it.
Though the veracity of this true story has been doubted over the years, it doesn’t make the movie any less interesting or effective. From overcoming the atrocities of World War II to having to survive the elements and scavenge for food to making tough decisions and dealing with the very discordant personalities amongst the group, there is ample opportunity for human drama in THE WAY BACK and the film takes advantage of each. There have been other movies that cover similar situations, but Weir chooses to tell the tale in a straightforward manner, not worried about trying to outdo its predecessors, but instead concentrating on the performances and putting you directly in these characters’ suffering shoes. And these are roles and conditions that not every actor in the world could handle, but the group here does admirable work with what was no doubt a very strenuous shoot. Jim Sturgess continues to impress as an actor beyond his years as the “kind” and steadfast leader of the group. He holds his own against seasoned vets like Ed Harris, who plays a grizzled yet wise American foil to his positivity. Colin Farrell goes for a decidedly unheroic character and adds a fun dynamic to the group, while the supporting cast is rounded out with strong turns from HANNA’s Saoirse Ronan and the omnipresent Mark Strong.
Like the journey itself, THE WAY BACK takes its time with a deliberate, yet slow pace. To put it bluntly, most of this movie is just people walking. If that is cause for concern, this might not be the film for you. But if you can let a movie unfold as it wants, you’ll take away a great story, powerful performances and some beautiful filmmaking from THE WAY BACK.
Warning: The title card at the very beginning tells you the end of the movie!
Extra Tidbit: Technical adviser Cyril Delafosse-Guiramand actually did the entire walk himself before production began.