In 1941, three men reach India from Tibet, having walked 4000 miles after escaping a Siberian gulag. The film tells their story and that of four others who escaped with them and a teenage girl who joins them in flight. The group's natural leader is Janusz, a Pole condemned by accusations secured by torturing his wife; he knows how to live in the wilds. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: a cynical American, a Russian thug, a comic accountant, a pastry chef who draws, a priest, and a Pole with night blindness. They face freezing nights, lack of food and water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalayas, and moral questions of when to leave someone behind. Written by
Early in the film, as the prisoners are marched up to the front gate of the Gulag prison camp, a slogan written in Russian Cyrillic letters is seen over that gate. It is a slightly shortened variation of a famous propaganda slogan from Communist-era Soviet Union, which translates approximately to "Labor in the USSR is a matter of honour, a matter of valour and heroism." See more »
When they notice Janusz has left the Tibetan monastery and they call for him on the mountain ridge, K2 appears in the background, which is in the Karakorum mountains, far away from where the action rolls, near the Tibetan border with Nepal. See more »
Anyone familiar with Peter Weir's incredible body of work - particularly his earlier Australian-produced movies - knows that a new Weir movie is an important event indeed. Almost all Weir's too-infrequent movies are at least noteworthy (Witness, Dead Poets Society) if not downright great (Year of Living Dangerously, The Last Wave).
With The Way Back, Weir may have made his greatest film ever. An epic and unrushed (2 1/4 hours) trek from a Soviet Gulag to the green hills of India, this is a beautifully filmed and superbly acted piece. Let it take its time; it is thrilling and appalling, but also beautiful.
The story, which Weir apparently has long wanted to film, is based on the account of a Polish army officer who later moved to England and wrote (with a ghost-writer) the book "The Long Walk," describing the journey he took with seven others. The movie is quite true to the book, right down to the American "Mr. Smith," Ed Harris' character. While the veracity of the story in the book has been questioned, that doesn't interfere with the great film-making.
Harris is fine as always, as is Colin Farrell as a Russian thug, but it is Jim Sturgess, as the Polish leader of the expedition, who has the most bravura performance.
Bravo to the cast, cinematographer, and most of all, Mr. Weir.
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