Their escape was just the beginning
Running Time: 133 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A
Two things worried me about The Way Back. To begin with, it stars Colin Farrell, which means that there is a 9 out of 10 chance that it will be terrible. Secondly, whenever America takes charge of another country’s history on the big screen, it really could go one way (Schindler’s List) or the other (Braveheart). The Way Back – wait for this one – could definitely be considered as a game of Russian Roullete, yet somehow, turns out to be a rewarding success.
The Way Back follows a group of political prisoners who are sent to a gulag in deepest, coldest Siberia. After enduring hardships, a number of them, including an ageing American (Harris), betrayed Pole (Sturgess) and Latvian Priest (Angelov) decide to escape and are blackmailed into taking a career crim (Farrell) with them. Their journey to freedom eventually takes them to India but along this huge journey they are beset by hunger, dehydration, danger and complete exhaustion and meet a plucky young Russian girl (Ronan). It’s a testament of people’s will to survive without descending into syrupy sentimentality. Weir was a lucky man to find such a rousing story but it’s easy to mess these things up as The Way back is a old-fashioned epic adventure and example of masterful storytelling. It’s just a shame that the story is made up.
None of the performances stand out but rather this is a team effort as it stars a collection of characters who have strengths and weaknesses and are easy to care about. This is rammed home when each time one of them doesn’t make it, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sadness. Another one of the stars of the film is the amazing scenery on show. Over their huge trek down Asia, the escapees wander across mountain ranges, through lush forests and across baking deserts on a journey that makes Lawrence of Arabia look like a holidaymaker. The scenes in the Gulag are also brutally and realistically created to show the hell from which they risk their lives to escape.
It's Got: A menagerie of great performances, epic story, lovely scenery
It Needs: To cut down on some of the repetitious scenes.
Epic storytelling at its best, Jim Weir, ably supported by at least half a dozen excellent performances, has done an inspiring tale justice.