Written by NICHOLAS DESCALZI
Movie: The Way Back
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan
Director: Peter Weir
The Way Back, Australian filmmaker Peter Weir’s return to the director’s chair after a seven year hiatus, has all the ingredients needed to craft an emotionally draining masterpiece: an accomplished director at the helm, a strong cast, beautiful photography, and a highly compelling premise. But the six time Oscar nominated director fails to infuse his main protagonists with the depth needed to push the drama of the film up to the potential its subject matter promises.
Based on the now debunked memoir of Slawomir Rawicz, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (1956), the movie tells the story of Janusz (Jim Sturgess), an innocent Polish man who is imprisoned by the invading Soviet forces in one of Stalin’s infamous prison camps in 1940s Siberia. With the aid of six other men, including the mysterious American, Mr Smith (Ed Harris) and a violent Russian criminal named Valka (Colin Farrell), Janusz hatches a plan to escape the prison and walk his way across a number of countries to reach the safety of India.
First and foremost it is important to clarify that this is by no means a bad film, but a highly disappointing one. Such an epic tale of human survival should be emotionally powerful, but Weir’s characters are so underdeveloped they fail to create any real relationship with each other, and consequently, fail to engage the audience. The problem seems to stem right from the first act, which is edited down so much it does not allow any of the characters to breath, and by the time they escape and begin their long journey, it is nearly impossible for the audience to distinguish who is who.
Many of the performances are good. Jim Sturgess is solid, Ed Harris is eerie and subtle, Collin Farrell steals a few scenes, and Saoirse Ronan – playing a young girl the men meet on the way – continues to prove that she is one of the best young actors in the world today. They do as well as they can, but they are held back by a weak script.
The highly compelling premise ensures that the film is never boring, but a rushed first act and criminally under-written characters, never allow the drama to reach its full potential.
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