The Way Back (2010)

The Way Back (2010)
  • Time: 133 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | History
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Cast: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Dragos Bucur


In 1941, three men reach India from Tibet, having walked 4000 miles after escaping a Siberian gulag. The film tells their story and that of four others who escaped with them and a teenage girl who joins them in flight. The group’s natural leader is Janusz, a Pole condemned by accusations secured by torturing his wife; he knows how to live in the wilds. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: a cynical American, a Russian thug, a comic accountant, a pastry chef who draws, a priest, and a Pole with night blindness. They face freezing nights, lack of food and water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalayas, and moral questions of when to leave someone behind.


  • The Way Back is a drama about a group of prisoners and a teenage girl seeking to escape the reach of the communists in 1941.

    Loosely based on a true story, the movie follows the group from their escape from a Soviet gulag in Siberia, through the Gobi Desert and across the Himalayas…all on foot. It’s was an incredibly perilous journey, and many of the characters do not make it to the end. Hunger, exposure, exhaustion, and dehydration were the almost constant companions of the group, and they took their toll.

    The great cast (including Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, and Mark Strong) really makes you care about the slowly bonding group as they travel mile after mile through harsh conditions and dangerous environments. The Way Back may not have the thrills of an action blockbuster, but it kept my interest throughout. A good movie about a very interesting subject.

  • A seven-year gap separates Peter Weir’s last film, Master and Commander (2003), and his latest, The Way Back. The respected Australian director of Witness (1985), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Truman Show (1998) delivers a visually spectacular film that pits Man’s unwavering will to survive against the merciless forces of nature.

    Inspired by true events, Weir’s film is set in the 1940s during a time when Eastern Europe was besieged by Nazism and Stalinism. Told from the perspective of a Polish man named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) accused by his wife of spying for enemy nations, The Way Back chronicles his escape together with a few other men from a POW camp in remote Soviet Union.

    Weir’s handling of his cast is remarkable. He places them in hostile environments and pushes them to act as their characters’ circumstances dictate. In one scene, out of extreme hunger, a man scrambles to pick up a millipede and chews it in his mouth. In another scene, a group of men desperately laps up mud water.

    Despite the unbearable conditions, the actors manage to dramatically convey the physical torture and suffering their characters are forced to endure as they trek thousands of miles on foot over freezing Siberian snow, arid Mongolian desert, and across the Himalayas to India where they finally find freedom.

    Shot by Russell Boyd, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Master and Commander, The Way Back features a number of wide, aerial shots that show the fragility of Man in an environment that, on many occasions, threaten to consume him. The events that occur in this film are at times so incredible that it seems more fictional as the clock ticks. How could anyone possibly survive such a death trek?

    A sudden appearance by Saoirse Ronan, who plays a Polish girl, midway through the film seems like a character conjured up out of thin air. Moreover, she looks too clean and beautiful for someone who has been lost in the woods for days, without food and water. Speaking of sudden occurrences, Colin Farrell, who plays a snobbish and volatile man, also leaves the group midway with a reason that is not clearly backed by character motivation.

    All these are surprising because Weir is quite an excellent writer, and many of his films are memorable for their characters. The performances, however, are top-notch, with special credit going to Farrell, who normally does not command the screen that well. In a nutshell, The Way Back is a beautiful film, well-directed, and acted, but let down by poor characterizations and a screenplay that is too far-fetched to be plausible.

    GRADE: B- (7/10)

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