For those of us fed up to the teeth with “indie film” meaning whiny 20-somethings navel-gazing at their terminal ennui, Peter Weir’s The Way Back is a breath of fresh air. Here we have an independent film that’s actually about something, that actually has production values and a screenplay that wasn’t made up as the film went along. The Way Back is based on a book called The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, a supposed factual memoir, the veracity of which has been called into question. I’m not sure if that matters in terms of the quality of the film, but since the film is marketed as “fact-based” in an effort to cash in on the mystifying mania for true stories, it should be addressed in passing. The film begins in 1939 with Janusz (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe) being railroaded — with the help of obviously torture-derived statements by his wife (Sally Edwards) — by the authorities in Soviet-occupied Poland into a 20-year sentence in a Siberian labor camp for espionage. Once in Siberia and the camp, Janusz quickly learns just what he’s there for. The American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) is quick to advise him that “kindness can get you killed,” and it’s not long before it becomes obvious that the only hope for survival is escape. The odds against a successful escape, however, are astronomical, even more so than Janusz and fellow escapees realize, since they’ve been cut off from the world and don’t realize that a 4,000-mile trek lies ahead of them in their quest for freedom. Skillful scripting, first-rate performances, and remarkable filmmaking make that journey much more compelling than you might suspect.
Director: Peter Weir
Writer: Slavomir Rawicz and Peter Weir
Cast: Colin Farrell, Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan, Ed Harris and Jim Sturgess
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