In 1941, three men attempt to flee communist Russia, 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, spent much of his youth outdoors, and knows how to live in the wild. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: a cynical American, a Russian thug, a comedic 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, as well as many moral and ethical dilemmas throughout the journey towards freedom.Written by
<email@example.com>, Shahob, Bellingham, WA, US
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 »
In the establishing long shot of the woodcutters, many of the prisoners are clearly only pretending to cut the logs, only tapping them with their axes. See more »
Peter Weir's first film in seven years is another exercise in sturdy direction with strong social themes running through it - recalling many of his previous works in style and content. It follows a group of escaped prisoners from a Siberian gulag in 1940 as they brave the treacherous wilderness of Asia for freedom from the Soviet regime. It's tough viewing for the most part but there is a surprising amount of comic relief along the way, provided chiefly by Colin Farrell's salty character. The group scavenge for food, even fighting off wolves for the carcass of an animal at one point - but the constant bickering and relentless doom and gloom does begin to wear. The film picks up however once Saoirse Ronan enters the picture and her youthful feminine presence brings an interesting dynamic. Emoting with a flawless Polish accent (almost like a mini-Streep) her character is one of the more compelling and layered and gives this emerging young actress a chance to display her skills. The cinematography is serviceable but hardly spectacular - capturing a harsh, arid landscape as opposed to Malick-like celebration of nature.
As the film wears on, the struggle to survive intensifies, particular when they reach the Ghobi desert - the scenes are very well done but viewing becomes quite grueling. Harris bring a certain integrity to his role in a rather unshowy performance with not much character introspection (I can see why his Oscar buzz has disappeared). In fact character development across the board is quite lacking, and watching the plot unfold, with the knowledge of the outcome of the story already provided in the opening titles - the narrative becomes quite arbitrary and the story doesn't always sustain interest. The final leg of the journey through the Himalayas almost seems rushed compared to the bloated second act. Still, it's a very well-made film with good acting and visuals - just don't expect to be inspired.
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