In order to really feel “The Way Back,” you need to ask yourself a question of whether the idea of spending nearly two and a half hour watching the struggle of men against mother nature has it appeals for you. If you say “yes,” then what’re you waiting for? Go watch this movie while it still playing, because it won’t be for long. It is, so far, the best film that I’ve seen this year. But if you say “no,” well, pity, but I heard the latest film from Acha and Irwansyah, “Love Story” is also playing. I think you’ll love that film more than this.
“The Way Back” is a story of Siberian gulag escapees whose myth or history says had walked four thousand miles overland from the merciless Siberian frigid woods, through the scorching desert of Gobi, up the trek of Himalaya heights to India. We see Janusz (Jim Sturgess) who was wrongly (or not) accused of treason during the dawn of European World War thrown into a Siberian prison. It was quickly shown that the prison’s greatest peril is not the guards and the dogs but the nature itself. Extremely cold weather, with a vast expanse of nothing every sights went, it was perhaps better to huddle in the comfort of others even if it’s in prison than to escape and eventually die in the open. Alone.
But of course, Janusz wasn’t one who just give in to fate when the thought and world of freedom was wide open and separated only by a barb wire. He manages to convince his friends, one American who insist to goes by the name of “Mr.Smith,” and a criminal, Valka, for a total of seven person to break out of the prison toward the only way to freedom. South. The film then shown the hardships that these seven (plus another, a Polish girl they picked along the way) has to endure against cold, hot, starvation, and everything mother nature has to offer.
Apart from some familiar names such as Ed Harris as Mr.Smith, Colin Farrell as Valka, Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan and to some extent, Jim Sturgess as Janusz, I had trouble at first in identifying the other characters as they trek through the woods. But, over time, this proved to be a good thing for the film allows us time and in an unobtrusive way, given that we’re paying attention, to know each character’s strength and unique contribution to the team and therefore formed an emotional attachment to each. Granted, the top four characters played by the more prominent actors will overshadow the others, but, they were pretty good in holding up their end of the bargains.
The film depicted the struggle of men to survive and stay alive against the nature and nothing else. I mean, if there’s a conflict between the characters the film took a light note of it and instead concentrating on how they interact with their surrounding with its dangers as one entity, as a team, or even perhaps, as a family. Depending on your preference, this may be either good or bad. If you’re more into conflict and put a blame on someone while rooting for another, then this journey will be very long one to take. However, if you’re more emotional and succeeded to heed what the filmmaker had intended to, which is root for everyone on the team, this journey is a worthy one to take.
Peter Weir is perhaps one of the most underrated director. I’ve often wondered why “Master and Commander” doesn’t get much love that effectively vanquished any hope of a franchise on that title. That film was one of my favorite. In this film, he once again gave a breathtaking view of nature. Whether it shown cold, and vast nothing of Siberian forest, Lake Baikal, the scorching hot of a Gobi desert, the snowy peak of Himalaya, all were taken beautifully, they were almost poetic. If you like Natural Geography channel, especially when it comes to shows about nature, it would be a wonder for me if you’re not interested in the least bit about this film.
On the acting department, I’d say near perfect. Probably biased. Ed Harris gave a commanding performance as Mr.Smith, Valka was perhaps one of Colin Farrell’s best performance that reminds us all how he was a terrific actor had he (or his agents) choose the right role. Jim Sturgess is I think, passable, not great but not bad, either. Saoirse Ronan is unfairly beautiful for a girl of seventeen. I wished I had known here when I was thirteen years younger and Mark Strong is Mark Strong, once again dangerously close to suffers a typecast. The rest of the cast, as I’d say before, keeps the end of their bargains on a high note. All in all, I’d say near perfect because when taken as a whole, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the survivor casts. No bad blood, no annoying clown, and no unnecessary feud that I felt a strong emotional ties with each of the characters that even if I had to look at imdb in order to rewrite their names for this review, I remembered every emotional highs and lows I have with each during the film. I nearly cried thrice for the entire of this film.
My rating: ***1/2 / **** – Probably not a pleasant way to spent a two and a half hours if you want to have fun. But, it was an emotional journey with an uniformly great performances that should defines what a great film is. Now, in case you hadn’t noticed, the “Love Story” references I made at the first paragraph is sarcastic.