The Way Back, Jim Sturgess

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong.

This ‘inspired-by-a-true-story’ movie about a group of prisoners who have escaped from a Soviet camp in Siberia in 1945 is more searing documentary with little emotion or depth but lots of picturesque vistas and painful endurance tests, which ultimately don’t deliver any real triumph for the surviving escapees.

I know it’s like a critically acclaimed film and all that but I’m sorry. I just have to say, I felt like I was in pain after an hour of this film about a prison break and a consequent walk across countries by a rag-tag group of filthy and wounded souls lead by the ‘kind’ Janusz (Sturgess). Communism is everywhere and they must flee on foot across Russia, then Mongolia and Tibet into India. Couldn’t they have found horses? Or a wagon cart? Something. Anything. Apparently this ‘inspired story’ hasn’t been verified so the director Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society) has certainly taken license. But he hasn’t invested in his characters. They barely talk during the journey or develop bonds. You really only come to know three of the characters.

The film starts off impressively with solid characters introduced like Mark Strong, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell. But Strong doesn’t escape. And Colin Farrell is basically the comic relief (thank god) of the film, which unfortunately is lost after his departure half way through. His thuggish Russian criminal Valka gives you something to centre on. And chuckle at through this arduous journey that seems more like the never ending story…

From forests to desserts to mountains, the band of brothers (and eventually a sister) traverses with cuts, sores, wounds, chapped faces and little provisions. Since National Geographic is one of the producers of the film, you get to feast your eyes on some interesting landscapes delivered with stark beauty by cinematographer Russell Boyd.

Ed Harris as the mysterious American, Saoirse Ronan, Jim Sturgess and Colin Farrell are all pretty good actors and have played their parts perfectly. But yet, the characterisation, or the bonds or something is missing. You don’t feel as much for them. Ya so he’s dead, bury him. Who’s the next one going to be. Okay, so that one’s gonna survive. It’s sad this becomes more of an exercise in detailing their journey and the insects and snakes they ate rather than give us a sense of their anguish or emotions.

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