When searching on RottenTomatoes.com, a new, unrecognizable release called “The Way Back” stood out. It looked interesting not only for its subject matter, but for the genuine mystery surrounding it and its nonexistent marketing.
Seeing Peter Weir directed the film, the man behind “Dead Poet’s Society” and “The Truman Show,” it seemed worth checking out.
The film takes place when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany invaded Poland at the same time. The Soviet Union was falsely accusing Poles of spying in order to throw them into gulags. Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is thrown in jail after his wife is tortured into accusing him of being a spy. The gulag proves to be a place where everyone seems to look out for themselves and each group of prisoners has a different background.
Janusz finds a group of captives, including Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and Valka (Colin Farrell), who want to get out of the camp as much as he does. He escapes with them, and they travel through 4000 miles of treacherous terrain and countless dangers to reach freedom.
The generic plot isn’t helped by poor editing. The quick cuts overpowered the film with shots lasting no longer than 8 seconds, relieving the audience of any possibility of calling this movie an epic, not to mention the ending is far from epic. On top of the shoddy cuts, the musical score was too minimal to set any real mood.
In addition, the movie is too long. After two hours and fifteen minutes, it was hard to remember “the way back” to my car, which was the only thing I wanted to do at that point.
It was also hard to keep track of most of the characters’ names because of the thick Polish and Russian accents. At some points of the movie, you could barely understand what they were saying.
While the movie itself isn’t good, there are some redeeming qualities. The landscape is stunning, as the group of prisoners travels through magnificent areas in Siberia and Mongolia, and Weir captures the beauty of these countries.
He also does a great job of keeping the film historically accurate and informing the audience of the extreme hardships the Poles endured during this time. The Soviet Union used lies to keep expanding their government and gain loyalty of its people, a consistent theme throughout the movie. With the exception of Farrell, the acting was underwhelmingly mediocre.
Overall, Farrell’s performance, certain landscapes and historical themes help the viewer get through the film.