Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Film Review: The Way Back

My cinema visits have been less than usual as of late, mostly because there's very little out that I want to see. I'd rather watch paint dry than see Trom, and Love and Other Drugs looks just as useless. I've seen Harry Potter more times than is acceptable for a normal twenty two year old girl, so I recently went to see The Way Back instead.

 Despite the fact that it begins by telling how many people live (bit of a spoiler...), its still a brilliant film, and I really recommend it. Directed by Peter Weir, it is based on the book The Long Walk, a memoir detailing how Slavomir Rawicz and his companions escaped a Siberian Gulag in the Second World War in the 1940s. Although his story has been widely questioned regarding its plausibility in recent years, it is still a harrowing tale that sucks you right in.

A military officer named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is hauled up for questioning, on the grounds that he is a spy. He denies this and refuses to give a false confession, so his wife is tortured into confessing, and Janusz is sent to a Gulag, which is a hard labour camp. He is given twenty years; most prisoners barely survive a few years. The prisoners are severely malnourished, and Weir doesn't shy away from showing the harsh environment in which they live; desperately scrambling for bit of dirty food dropped on the ground, exchanging anything of value for an hard lump of stale bread.

Janusz quickly decides this is not where he will die, and gathers a small group of prisoners who are willing to risk escaping. This is where we find Colin Farrell, otherwise known as Valka, a reckless Russian common thief quite willing to kill to survive; his only reason for escape is that he owes "big debt" to several other common criminals within the gulag. Controversially within the group of mostly Polish escapees, Valka has a large tattoo of Stalin emblazoned across his chest. Also included is Ed Harris as a mysterious American POW, along with an artist, a priest, and a young teenage boy with night blindness. Their plan is to walk thousands of miles from Siberia to India.

Upon actually managing to escape, the runaways now have to survive an even harsher terrain; the blizzardous Siberian landscape, followed by miles and miles of forest and fields, followed again by even more miles of nothing but baking hot, sandy desert. They resort to chewing on tree bark for any trace of nutrition, and at one point fight off a pack of wolves with nothing but sticks and rocks to rip into its raw kill with their bare hands. There's none of this 'rubbing a bit of dirt' on them to make them look rough, either; you see all of their painful cuts and wounds up close. There's a moment of desperation when Valka jokingly suggests to Janusz that it is lucky there are so many of them because at least there will be food when people start dying; you can tell he's not really joking at all, and Janusz doesn't exactly vehemently correct him either. Somewhere along the lines they find a lost girl (Saoirse Ronan) on the run from a child labour farm, and after debating over whether they can feed her, she continues to follow them and they eventually accept her.

There is nothing particularly spectacular about Janusz; he is not a 'hero', and seems to have unwillingly fallen into the position of 'leader', if there is one. Colin Farrell is a self centered criminal, and Ed Harris keeps himself to himself. The prisoners have little impact on one another, if only stopping a moment to bury the dead. They escaped not as firm friends, but merely because they have individual reasons for wanting to get out. The lack of loving comradery makes it an even more realistic tale; this is not a happy situation in which they all bond and become life long pals. It is simply a story of pure survival, and the harshness of reality, and some terrific acting - particularly Colin Farrell - makes this a thought provoking film that, whether really true or not, will stay with you nonetheless. There's something really spine tingling about seeing a birds eye view of a group of tiny black dots crawling along at an aching pace through an endless view of nothing but sand. Its not for everyone, and does tick on a little, but I can't recommend it enough.


  1. Really must go see it..the boy has been onto me for ages!
    Lady Peach

  2. Must give it a watch great review x

  3. I cried while watching this movie , great review !

  4. I know, I shed a tear or two myself!

  5. Glad it's good, although Saoirse has Dakota F's knack for picking winners!