Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters, and endeavor to build a village, in order to protect themselves and about one thousand Jewish non-combatants.
After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
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
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, Shahob, Bellingham, WA, US
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Solid story that looks great but is told with far too much reverence and respect – to the point of being hard to engage with emotionally
A group of men break free from the security and barbed wire fence of a Siberian gulag in search of freedom, however the guards are very small beer to the real prison – the ravages of nature itself and the great distance which must be crossed before they can be truly free.
Given that the focus of the film appeared to be one of endurance in the face of great suffering, this film is a bit of a hard sell for the casual viewer looking for something to watch of an evening; certainly for me this was part of the reason it took me a minute to decide to watch it. While it was an OK film, I'm not entirely sure if it was worth the two hours plus that it took to watch because it gives the viewer very little to engage with in doing so. The story is impressive in terms of the toll and also the sacrifice involved and accordingly the film wears it very seriously indeed. Hollywood excess is avoided and any crass sentimentality is absent, both of which I appreciated being omitted and restrained, and Weir documents the journey with a solemn air throughout. The first problem is that it feels like you're in a church – bowed with reverence witnessing things of importance but not really engaging with them because you're not really worthy. This feeling of worthiness really kept me at arms' length from the characters and the challenge they faced, to the point where it felt a little indifferent towards any specific one of them – not in a cruel way, but the feat appears to have been the focus rather than the people.
This is still able to make an interesting film though, because the feat is quite a thing and, as I said, the film is very careful to do it justice and not sentimentalise or trivialise it. This is my second problem with it – it probably overdoes it in this regard considering that so much of the story is questionable. I try not to let "facts" get in the way of enjoying a good movie because as a Brit I am used to seeing Hollywood twist history to make it more sellable to the mid-West etc. Thing is though, it is hard to accept that this is a good story when the film emphasises that it is true and also treats it with such reverence and respect for fear of getting it "wrong". Quite how one can get it "wrong" when so much of it is in doubt is anyone's guess, but the film takes this route and it hurts it in the process. It still makes for a very sturdy film but there without caring about the characters or really feeling in their trial, it didn't do a terrible lot else for me and I was surprised by how much of it I was just able to watch with very little involvement other than my eyes and ears.
One thing the film does do really well though is the delivery (visually speaking of course). The locations are immense and are put on the screen by director Peter Weir and cinematographer Russell Boyd in such a way that captures not only their natural beauty but also the sheer, uncompromising size of the places. It looks great throughout and I was surprised when I looked it up to find that Boyd didn't even merit an Oscar nomination for his work here (although it is an award category that has yet to give one to Roger Deakins so no surprise). It perhaps contributions to the "look at this epic story" worthiness that the film has, but in the case of the looks, it is worth it.
The cast also match the worthy tone and don't have a lot of time for character in between portraying hardship and perseverance. Sturgess struggles to really make an impression but he is OK in a central role. He is fortunate though to have Harris, Strong and Farrell with him, because they both bring presence and charisma in a way that looks easy. The rest of the group are good as well, but they also struggle to make an impression in all the worthiness.
The Way Back is an interesting film that looks great, but it is also overly worthy and serious to a point that it is hard to really engage with it because it is hard to reach the characters on the pedestal that Weir puts them on.
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