The Way Back
Directed by Peter Weir
Starring Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan
“The Way Back,” Peter Weir’s first film since directing “Master and Commander,” tracks the transcontinental trek of a group of gulag escapees in 1940 — Siberia to India in a year, give or take.
From blizzard-stricken forest to barren desert, the odyssey entails all the cinematic touchstones of a grueling, unsought wilderness journey: dehydration, starvation, contemplation of cannibalism, primal devouring of bugs and mud, face-blistering, toe-blistering, death, bonding, and plenty of shots of men savoring the feel of water on their grimy bodies.
Jim Sturgess stars as the optimistic leader of the pack; Ed Harris is a curmudgeonly American, and Colin Farrell is a violent brute with tattoos. A chef, an artist, a comedian and a young girl round out the motley crew.
Their plight as gulag victims gains your sympathies at first, but the characters are too thinly conceived to develop any meaningful camaraderie along the way. The routine story ends up feeling like an excuse for young actors to try their hand at roughing it in costume.
Over the course of 133 minutes, you do come to appreciate the enormity of the prisoners’ undertaking, especially when the camera captures the severe beauty of the terrain in wide angle. However, the story does not inspire half the amount of awe that the cinematography does.
“The Way Back” may capture the physical wear and tear of an epic journey, but it fails to convey the emotional fraying that comes with it.