The Way Back (2011) Peter Weir

Production Budget: $30 million

Worldwide Gross: $20 million

The Way Back is based off of a book called The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz.  The book was originally supposed to be a true life story about a group of prisoners escaping a WWII Siberian Gulag and had to walk over 4000 miles to freedom in India.  I say ‘originally supposed to’ because there has been evidence which seriously calls into question the truth of that (which is putting it extremely nicely).

The Way Back is a hard film for me to review because I’m not quite sure how to take it.  I thought inspirational films (if we are counting it as a genre) were about real life stories about beating the odds.  We get our inspiration from the fact someone defied the obstacles put in front of them and did something people thought would be highly improbable.  Miracle, for example, is about a group of amateur hockey players who were expected to take on the dominant Soviet hockey team at the Olympics.  They were able to beat the extreme odds by coming together as a team and conditioning themselves to specifically take on the Soviet team.  It works because we know it happens.  So I don’t know how to really take a movie which I can pretty confidently believe is a complete fabrication.

Even without the historical documents or statements this premise is too hard to buy even for these “beat the odds” type movies.  The movie expects me to believe they are walking for thousands of miles in extreme conditions without good footwear and sometimes going for long stretches without food or water (while they would be expending thousands of calories through their constant hiking).  This would be an incredible task to be attempted today even without the difficulty of having Nazis hunting after you.

The movie itself is solid.  Peter Weir is a director I follow because of movies like Master and Commander, The Truman Show, Gallipoli, Dead Poets Society, and so on.  Weir lovingly shoots all the different areas our main characters trek through (this is produced by National Geographic Films).  The acting is good overall from Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan.  The best actor is probably Colin Farrell, who plays a Russian criminal who tags along with the other escapees.  That makes it worse when the most interesting character gets dumped about half way through the story.  The story overall is well told and you do get to care for these characters despite some problems.  For example we follow our characters through all these harsh ecosystems and horrible trials and then when they get to the Himalayas (what should be the most perilous part) we spend about two minutes on it and quickly cut to the next scene of our characters completely fine.

Despite those flaws, I can’t knock it too much on the technical aspects.  This is a well-made movie and the actors give it their all.   All I can say is that I never really connected with any of the characters.  That is where I end up with in regards to the story not really being true.  Because of that I wasn’t able to really get emotionally involved with the movie.  I can appreciate the work that went into it but can’t get into it on anything deeper than that.

This is one where I think my opinion will differ from everyone else.  If you are interested in seeing this movie (based on the trailer or anything else) then you probably should see it.  Weir is a great filmmaker and he does a very good job in translating the source material to the big screen.  The cinematography and direction makes this feel epic and it helps to have veteran actors to play the underdeveloped characters.  But for me, I couldn’t really get into this movie and in the end, it just felt hollow.

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One Response to “The Way Back (2011) Peter Weir”

  1. I found the movie bland and uninteresting. I was greatly disappointed in the movie’s loose adaption of the book The Long Walk. Colin Ferrel’s character doesn’t exist in the book…and a hundred other details are either wrong or poorly interpreted. While The Long Walk’s authenticity is indeed dubious, it’s nonetheless a very good read. The movie was miserable.

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