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Review: The Way Back

Jan. 20, 2011by: Chris Bumbray
100%

PLOT: Prisoners in a Siberian Gulag circa-1939, escape their captors and attempt to walk to India, in order to evade their communist jailers.

REVIEW: THE WAY BACK is the latest film from director Peter Weir, and if that isnt cause for excitement, I dont know what is. Seriously folks. THE LAST WAVE. GALLIPOLI. WITNESS. THE MOSQUITO COAST. DEAD POETS SOCIETY. THE TRUMAN SHOW. MASTER & COMMANDER. These are just a sampling of his films. THE WAY BACK is a film that would have been an epic blockbuster if it had been made back in the sixties, seventies, or even the eighties- but now is considered uncommercial, and was unable to secure a large distributor, and is only getting a modest theatrical release.


Ive been trying to catch this film for months, to little avail. For some odd reason it skipped TIFF, but having finally caught it for myself, I can assure fans of Weirs work, THE WAY BACK is another terrific film and a near-masterpiece. The idea that this is getting such a small scale theatrical release is a travesty. Beautifully shot on location by Russell Boyd (who also shot MASTER & COMMANDER) this demands to be seen on as large a screen as possible, as its a real old-fashioned epic.

When I say old-fashioned I mean that as a compliment, in that, uniquely for our era, and despite being shot on an epic scale, THE WAY BACK focuses on characterization, and not spectacle. Based on actual events, this story of political prisoners walking 4000 miles to freedom is gripping stuff. Of course, its also quite a grueling film at time, and the viewer is not spared the realities of such a grim escape. You get to see our heroes suffer from starvation, snow-blindness, frostbite, and in one particularly uncomfortable scene, a massive mosquito attack.

Weir really makes you feel like youre along on the trip with these escapees, and I have no doubt that will be too much for many viewers to handle. However, those that arent afraid of being challenged by their entertainment can settle into 133 minutes of intensely gripping entertainment.


In addition to the beautiful photography, and a terrific (if sparse) score by composer Burkhard Dallwitz, Weirs also done a commendable job casting the film. The ensemble is led by Jim Sturgess. Those of you that only know him as a heartthrob from films like ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and 21 will be blown away by his performance here, which is a star-making turn if Ive ever seen one. Condemned by a phony confession tortured out of his wife by Soviet agents, his Polish Political prisoner makes for a compassionate and intriguing hero. Off of this film, I feel confident in predicting imminent stardom for Sturgess.

Supporting him are several other terrific actors, led by Ed Harris, who plays an American prisoner. The most cynical of the group, Harrischaracter is the one that seems to evolve the most over the course of the film, especially once Saoirse Ronan enters the film, as a Polish escapee from a Soviet work camp. Their emerging father/daughter relationship is one of the more touching aspects of the film. THE WAY BACK also offers yet another fine role for Colin Farrell. While he may not be the it boy he was a few years ago, hes done some incredible work over the last few years, and he goes against type as a brutal gangster that blackmails his way into the escape. The constantly working Mark Strong also has a small role as the prisoner who sparks the idea of escape in Sturgess.


Suffice to say, I thought THE WAY BACK was an incredible film, and I strongly urge anyone whos lucky enough to live near a theater playing this film to take the journey offered by THE WAY BACK. At times its grueling, and even difficult to watch, but its a remarkably powerful film.

Source: JoBlo.com

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9:59AM on 01/20/2011
Argh, that picture you so carefully write in the two first paragraphs really pisses me off! How can this amazing movie, directed by such an amazing director, struggle to get a big release!? That right there should be the next "C'MON HOLLYWOOD"!
Argh, that picture you so carefully write in the two first paragraphs really pisses me off! How can this amazing movie, directed by such an amazing director, struggle to get a big release!? That right there should be the next "C'MON HOLLYWOOD"!
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1:16PM on 01/20/2011
It's all about the money my friend. Can the studios pay up to spread it wider?
It's all about the money my friend. Can the studios pay up to spread it wider?
1:32PM on 01/20/2011
I agree, it's a shame. I would rather see this than most big budget Hollywood filth.
I agree, it's a shame. I would rather see this than most big budget Hollywood filth.
1:45PM on 01/20/2011
AND WITH THIS CAST!!!

WTF!?!?!
AND WITH THIS CAST!!!

WTF!?!?!
1:44PM on 01/20/2011

The stars have finally aligned

I'm from a large cutlturally deprived city in the midwest and therefore get no limited releases and very few concerts from some of my favorite bands. However this weekend I am going to Chicago and will make a point to see this on one of the almost dozen screens it is showing on... C'mon!
I'm from a large cutlturally deprived city in the midwest and therefore get no limited releases and very few concerts from some of my favorite bands. However this weekend I am going to Chicago and will make a point to see this on one of the almost dozen screens it is showing on... C'mon!
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7:12AM on 01/21/2011

Managed to catch this about 3 weeks ago

It's a fantastic movie, I agree with everything Bumbray says, it really recaptures the feeling of an old school epic that we lack so much nowadays.

Can't urge people to see it more, quite shocked it's not got a bigger distribution over the pond, it got a decent size release in the UK with as much promotion as any other blockbuster. If you have the chance to see it, don't hesitate.
It's a fantastic movie, I agree with everything Bumbray says, it really recaptures the feeling of an old school epic that we lack so much nowadays.

Can't urge people to see it more, quite shocked it's not got a bigger distribution over the pond, it got a decent size release in the UK with as much promotion as any other blockbuster. If you have the chance to see it, don't hesitate.
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3:45PM on 01/20/2011

I want to see this!

I wanted to see this as soon as i saw the trailer. Peter Weir is brilliant. Cant wait to see this.
I wanted to see this as soon as i saw the trailer. Peter Weir is brilliant. Cant wait to see this.
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1:33PM on 01/20/2011
I will add this to my top five to watch this year.
I will add this to my top five to watch this year.
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1:19PM on 01/22/2011
Great news just hours before I'm off to see this. Although there's one thing I already know that's gonna bug me: the Russian accents. Why do they do it?

Same thing in Defiance, great movie but the accents are so distracting.
Great news just hours before I'm off to see this. Although there's one thing I already know that's gonna bug me: the Russian accents. Why do they do it?

Same thing in Defiance, great movie but the accents are so distracting.
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