The Way Back Reviews
In a place where "nature is your jailer, and she is without mercy" Janusz suffers from his own need to be kind and is quickly singled out by guards as useful for the most punishing chores.
As the unspeakable conditions, lice, famine and internal crime only fuel his desperation. The initial idea of careful planning for a spring departure, provisions hording and secrecy is discarded as nature provides and opportunity for cover in the form of a blizzard.
The decision made, the seven strong veritable league-of-nations united by English, the safety of numbers and the sheer will to survive set out trudging through snow. The initial plan is to survive off the land with diminishing molded camp provisions whist walking 500 miles south of the camp to Lake Baikal. Once following the river, they will reach the Trans-Siberian Railway where they can cross into Mongolia to Tibet and freedom.
On the way, they gain a female companion Irena (Saoirse Ronan) a lone Polish girl also on the run but and lose two comrades. Valka (Colin Farrell) a Russian Stalin-loving criminal who was only allowed to escape after threatens Janusz but proves to be useful due to his lack of morals and his trusty wolf knife; the other a blind from starvation prisoner who freezes when he can not find his way back to camp.
The spread of communism is more vast than expected and their trek sees them having to go much further; crossing the Gobi desert and Himalayas to reach freedom in British India. The bleak, demoralizing and exhausting journey turns into a trek across 4000 miles of grueling terrain in which the group endures a punishing race against the elements, time, hunger and fear.
Having seven years off since 2003's Master and Commander, Australian director Peter Weir adapts Slavomir Rawitz's 'inspired by true events' story, Long walk; The True Story of a trek to freedom. Shot on a natural-set by cinematographer Russell Boyd, Weir seems to have embraced the stunning landscapes as a beautiful, if harsh, mistress an attitude that serves well.
The extreme locations of Bulgaria, Morocco and India in uncompromising freezing snow, desert quick-sands, sheer cliffs, dense forests and unforgiving mountains accentuate and eloquently capture the insurmountable harshness of topic.
Without feeling the need to harbor on the brutality of the camps or the pain of the trek, the torture is better embraced in scenes such as one where the group stave off a pack of wolves to feast feverishly on the carrion in their midst. A late sequence in which a historical news-real montage shows the poles post war communist rule, Hungarian uprising the fall of the Berlin wall is a wonderful closure without badgering viewers with history.
The motley league-of-nations group has an outstanding cast to match. English actor Strugess is creditable as the polish Janusz, America Ed Harris plays his usual enigmatic grizzled cynic Mr. Smith, Romanian actor Dragos Bucur is strong in a solid supporting role, American; with an ear for languages, Saoirse Ronan brings a human face to the desperate men and emotional depth as the only female character and Colin Farrell sheds his Irish brogue and embodies the essence of a russki accented tattooed gambler.
The Verdict: As the unforgiving landscape is devoid of food, shelter, relief and kindness, this movie is devoid of clichés, Hollywood glamorization and the usual histrionics. A more subtle, more moody and more restrained retelling of a true life 'inspired' journey that shows that humanity is capable of decency even as it struggles to survive.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 04/03/2011
My only complaint is their accents...thank goodness for subtitles on the DVD.
Although its pacing and repetition may turn off some viewers, The Way Back is still beautifully shot, powerfully-acted, and dramatically engaging.