Rudie Reviews Peter Weir’s The Way Back [Theatrical Review]

The Oscar race is in full swing. Studios are pouring millions of dollars to advertise and showcase their films for members of The Academy. But an epic film like The Way Back seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle at the end of 2010. This saddens me because, honestly, The Way Back is one of the best films of 2010 and it seems like no other film critics, bloggers or pundits are talking about this magnificent film. The new film from Australian filmmaker, Peter Weir, is the most uplifting, compelling and joyous films I’ve seen in all of 2010.

The Way Back is based on the book ‘The Long Walk’ by Slavomir Rawicz about the journey of escaped convicts from the wastelands of a Siberian prison camp during World War II to the non-Communist, India. Some of these men are war prisoners and some of them are the most ruthless men in all of Russia, but what ties them together is the human will to live and be free. Interestingly structured, The Way Back does not play like a typical prison break movie. It seems like Peter Weir is more interested in examining the relationship between men, self and nature.

The Way Back follows Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Polish P.O.W. who is betrayed by his wife and sentenced to hard labor in a Siberian Gulags. There he meets Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and together with a few other prisoners, including a menacing Russian gangster Valka (Colin Farrell) agree to plan and breakout of this icy hell. They plan for weeks, gathering food, trading for supplies and coordinating with the weather for the perfect time to hide their tracks, during a snow storm. As they escape from the prison camp, their goal is to survive in the harsh Russian wilderness and get to the Russian/Mongol border to a non-Communist country. During their hellish trek, they encounter a young country girl from Warsaw, Irena (Saoirse Ronan), who had her family and home torn apart by Communist Russia. She joins them in their search for freedom.

Interestingly, Peter Weir presents this horrendous escape in some the most beautiful cinematography and landscapes in any film in 2010. The setting and world created with Weir’s eye is so rich, lush and at times unbearable for this unlikely group. With a running time of 133 minutes, I felt this movie could have been longer because what is presented by Peter Weir is a feast. A large, textured and enticing cinematic feast for the eyes. I simply did not want this movie to end. The Way Back also offers top tier acting and performances from this very well assembled cast. Helmed by Ed Harris’ Mr. Smith, who brings a certain fatherliness to the group, marked with a hint of wisdom and sympathy. Only matched by Collin Farrell’s Valka, who gives this film some genuine comedy and levity that an audience is sure to enjoy. But heart break and pain is what this story strives for but ultimately reassured as their long walk to freedom is realized.

Spanning a journey of 4,000 miles by foot, The Way Back is simply one of the best movies of 2010. It’s a complete and uplifting journey that will warrant praise, recognition and pathos. The Way Back is a cinematic achievement and offers a keen look at a prison break movie without the tropes of the process of a prison break. A haunting tale of survival, endurance and the will of the human spirit.

Grade: A-

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