Tag Archives: Keith R. Clarke

The Way Back

16 Feb

Title: The Way Back
Peter Weir
Peter Weir and Keith R. Clarke, based on the novel by Slavomir Rawicz
Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, violent content, depiction of physical hardships, a nude image and brief strong language
133 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:


Peter Weir is a master at filmmaking, the Australian director has maneuvered his way smoothly through many genres and styles, his Dead Poets Society is amazing, The Truman Show is a thing of beauty and he got a seriously stellar performance from Jim Carrey in it, and then came 2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, an awesome film that also happened to have been the last one he made until this one, seven years later. And much like his last effort, The Way Back has an appropriately epic feel to it to go along with some very fine performances from really capable actors. My problem with it was that, though grand in scale, the emotional complexities were too underdeveloped for me to really feel for the characters here, and when you’re in such a huge two-hour-plus ride you really need that involvement to get through it without having it feel tiresome.

And that’s really the problem with The Way Back, that it’s very long and that, even though it’s incredibly well made and acted, it, at times, feels as though it drags on because there isn’t as much emotional weight to keep you fully involved. The visuals may be really amazing, and they are thanks to cinematographer Russell Boyd, a frequent collaborator of Mr. Weir and an Oscar winner for his work in Master and Commander, but that’s just it, the movie many times feels far more invested in its gorgeous views than in its dramatic substance.

And I’m really not dissing The Way Back, it’s really a very very good film, I just wanted it to be a huge epic and get Peter Weir back to the Oscars (he’s been nominated six previous times), while the only nomination it got was for Makeup (it qualified for the 2010 Oscar crop, but it got its release in 2011 so I’m counting it as an ’11 film). But yeah, even though it feels too long at times, and not as invested in the emotional subtleties of it all, this is still one very solid film, done exquisitely well by a guy who knows his craft, and who loves observing people against some very intense and special situations.

I wanted to grade The Way Back somewhere in the A-range, maybe a strong A-minus, but it will definitely fall a bit short from that, because, a year from now, I doubt I’ll remember this one all that much. And considering this is supposed to be this very epic look at survival and enormous issues within, that’s quite a letdown. I want to congratulate Mr. Weir and his crew for actually making this film, because the production values are simply superb, and the fact that a film this huge and ambitious found a home and financing is really fantastic, but the overall product, though great to look at, isn’t all that great to ponder at once you’re done with it.

If you can put aside that considering the amazing story it told the film itself should have been far more epic itself, you’ll find yourself watching a pretty amazing film. One in which the story is of escapees of a Siberian prison, making their way 4’000 miles through, to freedom in India. Yes, that’s how huge the scope is in The Way Back. A helluva journey with endless possibilities of death in many ways, but, really, that’s kind of it. And yes, that huge journey with countless chances of starvation and injury is compelling stuff, no doubt about that, but there’s way too few character development here for it to propel itself to sheer greatness.

The four main cast members are all excellent. We have Jim Sturgess as the one I guess we’d call the leader of the pack, Janusz. Then we have Ed Harris, who’s seriously amazing, as an American who goes by the name of Mr. Smith. And finally we have Colin Farrell, a Russian guy named Valka. These are the three main escapees we meet in the journey, but along said journey we also get to meet Irena, a young woman who has escaped from a collective farm near Warsaw and joins them. Irena’s played by Saoirse Ronan, who turned heads in her breakthrough Oscar-nominated role in Atonement, and who continued to be great in the otherwise so-so The Lovely Bones, and who continues to be incredible here, a streak that she probably won’t break once she reunites with her Atonement director, Joe Wright, for this April’s awesome-looking Hanna, alongside Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett.

I’ve heard claims that the story on which this is based isn’t actually true, as the film says it is, and if it really isn’t it wouldn’t matter much to me. I mean, if it were true it would probably actually be a bit too unbelievable, and no matter the case Mr. Weir and his cast and crew were still crazy committed into translating the true (or maybe not) tale to the screen, which is what counts. I don’t really care that much in the case of The Way Back if the story is true or not, I just care that it’s well done, and this one really is. Yes, there could have been a lot more dramatic and emotional complexities, but this is still a pretty darn good film and you should definitely go watch it.

Grade: B+