Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Way Back (2010) **

PG-13, 133 min.
Director: Peter Weir
Writers: Peter Weir, Keith Clarke, Slavomir Rawicz (novel “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom”)
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Dragos Bucur, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, Alexandru Potocean, Hustaf Skarsgard, Mark Strong

Before it’s release, Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” was expected to be a potentially powerful film. Weir has a good track record ranging from the 80’s police drama “Witness” to the period nautical picture “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”. This true story is taken from a book written by a Polish survivor of a Siberian labor camp during World War II, who escaped with six other prisoners, walking over 6500 kilometers across the Siberian forest, the Gobi Desert, and through Tibet and the Himalayas. It certainly sounds like a powerful story.

Unfortunately, too many of the obstacles these escapees had to face in their journey seem brushed over in the film’s execution. Only the Gobi Desert sequence really seems to capture the burden of the hurdles this group had to overcome to complete their journey. During the rest of the film the filmmakers set up obstacles—like the sentries the group must traverse at the Trans Siberian Railroad—but then just skip over them. Why show us the sentries if you’re not going to show the men overcoming this obstacle?

The performances by the major players—Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, and Colin Farrell—are excellent. Too much of the movie, however, seems to only scrape the surface of their plight. The ending is unsatisfactory as well. On top of that, many of the story elements seem questionable. If all the main character wants is to be reunited with his wife, why does he have to wait until the collapse of communism in 1989? The “collapse of communism” in itself is a questionable element. But surely, he could’ve contacted his wife long before that.

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