From Peter Weir, the director of Master and Commander, comes the epic escape and survival film The Way Back. Released in December 2010 on its way to less than $3 million domestic box office gross, The Way Back is yet another head scratcher. With a captivating story and powerful performances, The Way Back deserves much more attention than it received, even with a disastrous ending.
The Way Back stars Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong and Ed Harris as prisoners who decide to flee a Siberian gulag in 1941 and walk 4,000 miles to freedom through treacherous environments and hostile territory.
As can be expected from Peter Weir, who also directed The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society, The Mosquito Coast, Witness and Gallipoli, The Way Back is a sweeping drama with beautiful visuals and great performances from all involved.
The film, which is roughly based on an allegedly true story (the validity of the biography it's based upon has been called into question), is well paced; it takes hold from the first minute and doesn't let up until the end.
One common criticism is that the character development is weak. The picture is very much about escape and survival, which results in very little time for many of the characters to be fleshed out. Character development isn't the movie's strong suit, yet Weir, who co-wrote the screenplay with Keith R. Clarke, manages to make the audience care for his characters nonetheless.
The biggest and most glaring issue with The Way Back is the ending. The final two or three minutes are just disastrous and keep the movie from being the masterpiece it could have been. It looks as though Weir ran out of budget and clipped a crucial few minutes from the film's conclusion; one minute the characters are discussing waiting until spring to cross the Himalayas, and the next they're arriving in India.
Movie over, other than a historical recap and an unfulfilling reunion scene.
The ending is about as close to a deal killer as they come, but that shouldn't overshadow how good the rest of the movie is. The Way Back is one of the most overlooked movies of 2010, but it doesn't have to be lost forever.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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