The Way Back Movie Review
In 1939 Poland, Janusz (Sturgess) is charged by the Soviets with spying and sent to a Siberian gulag. In the middle of the bitter winter, he and six other prisoners manage to escape: veteran American (Harris), hothead Russian criminal (Farrell), helpful comic (Bucur), artist (Potodean), nice-guy Latvian (Skarsgard) and night-blind youngster (Urzendowsky). The first 300 miles to Lake Baikal almost kills them, but they've only just begun the 4,000-mile trek to freedom in India. And they've also picked up a young Polish girl (Ronan).
Yes, the journey these rag-tag travellers take is remarkable, and the film devotes most screen-time to hardships they encounter along the way, from the icy Siberian countryside to the seemingly endless Gobi Desert. That anyone survived both of these is amazing, and they the Himalayas were still in front of them. Along the way they are offered some help from locals, but most of the time they are simply desperate for food and water.
These two basic needs crop up over and over again, of course, but filmmakers Weir and Clarke find ways to keep these repetitive sequences feeling fresh.
Even so, the long desert sequence vividly makes us feel that yawning endlessness. Fortunately, the character interaction is continually interesting; the cast is convincing and involving. And even if only the four big international stars get the chance to add much depth to their roles, the other four leads all have their moments.
As it progresses, it's impossible not to be inspired by these people and their tenacity in the face of unthinkable obstacles. Weir makes the most of the various settings, which are gorgeously photographed by Russell Boyd (in Bulgaria, Morocco, Australia and India). And he also draws strong emotion from the story. But in the end it feels a little bit too cinematic, as the true story has been heavily fictionalised to be more crowd-friendly. But then the source memoir, Slawomir Rawicz's The Long Walk, is also suspected of bending the truth.