United Kingdom/USA/United Arab Emirates/Poland
132 minutes

A rare mis-step for Australian classicist Peter Weir, The Way Back, the true story of a group of political and war prisoners that escape a Siberian gulag in 1940 and walk across Russia, Mongolia, China and Tibet to freedom, is a surprisingly dull odyssey. Inspired by the supposed memoir of Polish officer Slawomir Rawicz (later found to be an embellished account of the real experiences of an unknown fugitive), the film eschews overt dramatisation of the events to focus on survival pure and simple, with breathtaking real locations in Bulgaria, Morocco and India framing the harrowing endurance test of the characters' long walk to freedom.
     However, despite fine work all around from the cast and a welcome sobriety in mr. Weir's handling, The Way Back feels more like a worthy slog through a real-life docudrama than an edge-of-your-seat nailbiting adventure. It's true that it's unusual to see such a tale stripped to its bare minimum, without any action scenes to relieve the drudgery of stubborn survival. And it's worth comparing The Way Back to Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff or Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing to understand that mr. Weir's expansive lensing is part of the problem, its visuals practically conditioning the viewer to expect a more conventional epic than the intimate chamber drama of men caught in a treadmill that lies at its heart. Hardly a bad film, but certainly a flawed one.

Starring Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan; and Colin Farrell; with Mark Strong.
     Directed by Peter Weir; produced by Joni Levin, mr. Weir, Duncan Henderson, Nigel Sinclair; screenplay by mr. Weir and Keith Clarke, based on the book by Slawomir Rawicz, The Long Walk; music by Burkhard Dallwitz; director of photography (color by Deluxe, Panavision widescreen), Russell Boyd; production designer, John Stoddart; costume designer, Wendy Stites; film editor, Lee Smith.
     An Exclusive Media Group/National Geographic Entertainment/Imagenation Abu Dhabi presentation of an Exclusive Films production; co-financed by the Polish Film Institute and Monolith Films; Point Blank Productions; Super Crispy Entertainment. (US distributor, Newmarket Films. UK distributor, E1 Films. World sales, Exclusive Media Group.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), June 22nd 2011. 


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