.

The Way Back

Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan

Directed by Peter Weir
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 3.5
Community: star rating
5 3.5 0
January 19, 2011

The smart money says that audiences will never drag their asses to a multiplex to see a fact-based movie about prisoners of war who escape a Siberian gulag in 1940 and drag their asses through China, the Gobi desert and Tibet, and over the Himalayas to India and what may be just a dream of freedom. Agreed, The Way Back is a challenge. But it is not an endurance test. Why? Peter Weir is the director, and this extraordinary adventure is his first film since the Oscar-nominated Master and Commander eight years ago. Since this world-class Australian filmmaker works rarely (13 movies in 36 years) and his output includes Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, Gallipoli, Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Year of Living Dangerously, Fearless and The Truman Show, only cinema illiterates would hesitate to work their way back to Weir.

The director, 66, brings his passion for precision to every frame of the film, refusing to hype or Hollywoodize the detailed richness of the story. Freely adapting Slavomir Rawicz's 1956 book The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, Weir and co-writer Keith Clarke answered long-standing questions about the authenticity of Rawicz's story — did this really happen to him, or was he reporting tales he had heard from others? — by doing their own research into the lives of these POWs.

The 10 Best Movies of 2010

Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21) excels as Janusz, a young Polish prisoner desperate to return home to the wife who betrayed him. The torturous life in the dark, frigid labor camp is so painstakingly rendered that you long for the breakout, even in a blizzard. Janusz, the unofficial leader, has survivalist skills that aid the other escapees, including Mr. Smith (a superb Ed Harris), a secretive American engineer. Valka (Colin Farrell), a Russian thug with a gold tooth and a hair-trigger temper, uses a different method to get in on the daring getaway: He holds a knife to Janusz's throat until he agrees to take him along. Farrell's feral performance energizes the film. As the men trek 4,000 miles across harsh terrain, avoiding occupied areas, they find themselves followed by Irena (the excellent Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year-old Polish refugee who joins the group and incites the men to reveal personal details.

The 10 Worst Movies of 2010

Is that soap opera knocking? Not in a Weir film. He has crafted a riveting tale that clings bravely to the integrity of its storytelling, even at the risk of emotional remoteness. It's the journey that counts, and Weir makes you feel it in your bones. His refusal to pander to the heartstrings may cost the movie at the box office. But it shouldn't deter you from watching a master at work. Resonantly shot by Russell Boyd, this artful tale of survival against the elements — radiating terror and beauty — continues Weir's fascination with characters trapped by worlds they didn't make.

prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    • Child of God
      star rating
      Well Go USA Entertainment
    • lucy
      star rating
      Universal Pictures
    • star rating
      IFC Films
    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “San Francisco Mabel Joy”

    Mickey Newbury | 1969

    A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com