The Way Back Review

The Way Back follows seven Gulag escapees and a Polish woman as they trek from Siberia to India to escape communist oppression. It is a film of human beings getting swallowed up by nature, with no way to beat it except to struggle on.

And my goodness does nature look beautiful. An easy mistake to make with a film like this is to assume that you can just point a camera at the natural world, and create instant cinematography. This is not the case, and Director of Photography. Russell Boyd must be commended for capturing the wonder and danger of planet Earth. Kudos must go to the location manager for finding such incredible spots across the continents. For a film about walking, there are plenty of little moments that keep it alive. Be it a deer stuck in mud, eating snakes, or snow masks made of hastily cut wood, what could be so monotonous is always fascinating.

And yet what is strange about the film is despite the subject matter, it isn’t actually that harrowing. There is the odd image of rotten teeth and septic feet that are wince inducing, but it never quite gets as awful as it could be. The start is horrific, and after the first few nights in the Gulag I was expecting something much stronger. Instead the journey is arduous, but seemingly bearable for most of its participants.  Some of the moments by the lake are actually rather pleasant, and it’s only when things get to the desert that their trek really gets nasty.  There iso doubt these people suffer, but perhaps they get swallowed a little too much by the landscape; their pain becomes a little oblivious.

This would ruin the film utterly, were it not for the strength of the actors, who are fantastic across the board.  Jim Sturgess provides a solid role as Janusz, and is an actor to keep your eye on for the future. Ed Harris as strange American Mister Smith has grown into a grizzled old man that we always knew we would. Colin Farrell as the psychotic Russian prisoner Valka is wonderful, both terrifying and vulnerable at the same time. The others are a little mix and match, but all have at least one great scene.  You really care about the characters, and the fact they don’t go through the blender as much as potentially possible isn’t boring but a relief.

If judged as a gripping movie about the Russian Gulags, or the horror of war, then after the first twenty minutes you might be solely disappointed. Strangely, The Way Back celebrates beauty and friendship, not suffering, and despite lacking realism, is a wonderful piece of fiction.

8/10

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One Response to The Way Back Review

  1. CMrok93 says:

    “The Way Back” seems like it could have been made 40 or 50 years ago, and I mean that in a good way. It’s only problem was that it wasn’t as emotionally attaching as it could have been, but you can’t help but enjoy yourself with this adventure. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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