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March 6, 2012

4

The Way Back

by Franz Patrick


Way Back, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Janusz (Jim Sturgess) was suspected of being a spy against the Russian government during World War II but there was a lack of evidence against him. When his wife was captured and tortured, she felt she had no other choice but to tell lies in order to survive. As a result, Janusz was sent to a Siberian labor camp for twenty years. Inside, he met seven others (Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Potocean, Mark Strong, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Gustaf Skarsgård) who where willing to escape and traverse thousands of miles through Siberia, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas. Based on the book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” by Slavomir Rawicz, there was no denying that what the POW had been through was unimaginable, but I wasn’t convinced that the film matched the greatness of the material they had a chance to work with. It was expected that Sturgess, Harris, and Farrell’s characters were given a solid amount of screen time. We learned about where they came from and what was important to them. However, I kept wondering about the other men. Since the spotlight was rarely on them, we only knew them through surface characteristics. For instance, the tall one liked to cook and draw, the young one had night blindness, the other was a comedian. It may sound disrespectful but such is a consequence of filmmakers focusing on which celebrities ought to receive more screen time than others instead of focusing on the drive of each man. Given that it was over two hours long, there was no excuse for a lack of character development. Furthermore, as a whole, the entire journey felt depressing instead of inspiring. While not all of them made it to the very end, I believe what should have been highlighted was their bravery by standing up against a government that wrongly accused them of crimes and taking their lives to survive in the wilderness. The only time when I felt the movie had some sort of pulse was when the runaways met the young Irena (Saoirse Ronan). Ronan’s acting was dynamic. The way her body language and facial expressions changed from one emotion to the next, especially while interacting with the veteran Harris, felt effortless and I quickly became enthralled and fascinated by Irena. But the picture, inevitably, had to go back to the long walk to India. I was consistently disappointed due to its lack of attention in truly immersing our senses with each environment. Instead of taking the meditative path and not merely relying on music to nudge us that what we were seeing was visually majestic, it treated the disparate environs as cheap obstacles. I might as well have been playing “Super Mario” on Wii and it would have been far more engaging. Once the obstacle had been surmounted, it was onto the next challenge and the next death. Directed by Peter Weir, the manner in which “The Way Back” unfolded felt like the its characters were walking in circles. Considering its story involved a great journey across the world, it ended up going nowhere.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sam Fragoso
    Mar 6 2012

    Hmm … I’ve heard such good things. Sad to read you didn’t like it.

    Reply
    • Mar 6 2012

      You might. If you feel like taking a risk, go see it… after your SATs. :) Good luck!

      Reply
  2. Mar 10 2012

    I think we basically agree on this one, although I might have liked it a little more than you did. I found the first half really annoying, mainly because of Colin Farrell’s flamethrowing performance. God, he genuinely knows overacting! For me, the movie actually picked up a little as the march got on, I kind of felt like it was an almost zen-like quality to the ‘slow cinema’ feel of the proceedings (think Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff). But I also agree about its inherent imbalance when it came to character depth and development.

    My most obvious point of comparison is Into the Wild, and there was very little here that took me inside the minds of our protagonists like I was sucked into the mindset of Chris McCandless. That said, their backgrounds were of course very different, with one group of political prisoners and the other a man who decided on his own to abandon modern society. But still, the point stands: The Way Back lacked an emotional component for me.

    Reply
    • Mar 15 2012

      Glad I’m not alone. Don’t you feel like it might have worked better as a mini-series shown on HBO?

      Reply

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