“The Way Back” is a film by Peter Weir (“Gallipoli”). It is based on the very popular memoir by Slawomir Rawicz entitled The Long Walk. Weir and Keith Clarke wrote the screenplay. The movie cost $30 million and made only $20 million. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup in what must have been a slow year for makeup.
The film is set in WWII Russia. Janusz Wieszczek (Jim Sturgess) has been ratted out by his wife to the NKVD for being critical of Stalin and for espionage. He is sent to a gulag in Siberia. The prisoners are a mixture of political prisoners and career criminals. They are working in mines that are very dangerous and claustrophobic. Janusz joins a group of seven prisoners who escape in a snow storm. The movie now has a “who will survive?” subplot. It does not take long for one of them to freeze to death. They have a 4,000 mile journey ahead of themselves. Along the way, they are joined by a teenage girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan). In a surprise twist, even the amoral Valka (Colin Farrell) does not mess with her. The movie is not burdened by clichés.
Suddenly the subtitle budget ran out and all the trekkers are speaking English. They also look way too healthy and fit. Their clothes are also holding out remarkably well. Good thing because they have a lot of hiking to do. Surprisingly the journey is not really fraught with serious problems until they reach the Gobi Desert. By that time, Valka has left the group, taking a lot of tension and drama with him. More walking gets the final four to their destinations.
I found this movie boring. It’s mostly a movie about people walking. There are not enough dangers or problems along the way. There is also not enough dysfunctionality in the group and what little there is leaves with Valka. Most of the characters are undeveloped and few make an impression. The cinematography is nothing special although the scenery is a strength of the movie. The lack of dazzle is perplexing considering that Weir’s cinematographer (Russell Boyd) had won the Academy Award for “Master and Commander”. The score is sparse. There is little evidence that this is a Peter Weir film.
Before you call me a hypocrite for wanting the movie to be less of a “true story”, consider the fact that the “true story” as told by Rawicz has been refuted. Apparently he did not escape from a gulag, but was in fact released by the authorities. And by the way, he was imprisoned for killing an NKVD agent, not for being an anti-communist spy. The incredibly popular book appears to be a fraud. Even Weir was forced to admit the film is “essentially a fictional film”.
My main problem with the movie is that it was made. This was Weir’s big follow up to “Master and Commander”?! That movie was a tour de force of directing and created high expectations for his next film. So what happened? Not only did he not do a sequel, he waited seven years to release a new feature length movie and it was this dud. What was he thinking? After the disappointing box office of “Master and Commander” I can see why he would take a break from filmmaking, but why return with a film that was bound to land with a thud? This was a wasted opportunity.
GRADE = D
Thanks for the warning. I have little interest in this film, which seems like a waste of talent, not just Peter Weir, but Colin Farrell and Ed Harris. Especially after the original story was exposed as fake. It does seem like a strange choice of project for Weir.ReplyDelete
It was certainly a big disappointment.ReplyDelete
I liked this one more than you, but it did seem to be missing something. Struck me that Weir was harkening back to his Aussie arthouse days but without conviction.ReplyDelete
I love that arthouse reflection! I think you nailed it. I think my anger at no "Master and Commander" sequel may have colored my opinion of the movie.Delete