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“The Way Back” - {Blu-ray}
Wayne Klein
Studio: Anchor Bay
Release Date:
Special Features:

Docuementary, Trailer Rated: R


Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” embodies two extremes in film; it’s an epic film that focuses on the individual. Based on a true story the film focuses on the atrocities committed by the Soviets during Stalin’s reign of terror beginning just prior to World War II. Set in Siberia at one of the Soviet gulags “The Way Back” focuses on five political prisoners and one criminal who attempt the impossible; an escape from the gulag and a trek to freedom thousands of miles towards Mongolia. Januscz (Jim Sturgess) a Pole like many political prisoners was convicted on a false accusation of being an enemy of the State. Sentenced to 25 years in gulag building the Trans-Siberian Railway he discovers that many of the prisoners there were sent there on trumped up charges in order to create slave labor in the most inhospitable conditions imaginable. Striking up a cautious friendship with Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) an American engineer who migrated to find work in Russia during the American Depression, Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård) a priest, Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean) , a criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), a cook with artistic ambitions and Zoran (Dragos Bucur). Januscz plans on escaping North with the help of these individuals when he and others are assigned to the mines where the survival rate is extremely low. ***

These men trek nearly 4000 miles along the way picking up a girl Irena (Saoirses Ronan) who has escaped from a collective farm after her parents were murdered by the Soviets struggling to survive on little to no food and stay out away from any authorities as they try and make their escape to live or die as free men. ***

Weir’s tackled a number of genres over the years but the themes to his films remain the same about trying to retain our sense of self in a world knocked out of balance. While “The Way Back” manages to be an interesting and compelling film to watch it lacks the emotional resonance that is often at the heart of Weir’s films. This is primarily due to the lack of major conflict between the characters or the lack of a challenge to Januscz leadership of this rag tag group of prisoners who all have their own reasons for wanting to escape but too little is shared too late when Irena becomes the main means of communication between these very different men. This isn’t a fault of the acting but of the writing and, perhaps, of Weir’s direction of the material. ---

Image & Sound:

“The Way Back” receives a sharp a nice looking transfer to Blu-ray. Although some of the bleak vistas don’t lend themselves to a colorful presentation, the awe inspiring photography still manages to capture the majesty of the vast wilderness that surrounds and often overpowers these men. Skin tones look quite nice throughout and natural. Detail is remarkably sharp throughout with nice depth. The film always looks like a film as well eschewing the overly “digital” look of many more recent films with minimal use of digital noise management. ***

Audio likewise can be quite brilliant particularly during scenes set in the ice or snow storms of Siberia. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout.

Special Features:

“The Journey of the Journey” is a 30 minute documentary on the making of the film. Weir and the various actors are interviewed about the experience of making the film and we get to see plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the building of the gulag which is evidently quite accurate in detail. The documentary is presented in SD and clocks in just over 30 minutes. ***

We also get the original trailer in standard definition as well. ---

Final Words:

Although a well made film that has an epic feel to it, “The Way Back” lacks the emotional depth and deeper characterization that we’ve come to expect from many of Weir’s films. In many respects these characters reflect Weir’s other main characters such as Book in “Witness” or Truman from “The Truman Show” who are initially all about playing a “role” but in each of those films we discover the depth of their characters as the films progress even if there isn’t much to say from their interactions with others. Unfortunately, because ALL the characters are like Weir’s other main characters they don’t have anyone (aside from Irena who comes in too late in the film to make a difference and is probably the only reason she’s introduced into the film. Weir also seems afraid to address the fact that some of these men might see her as a sexual conquest considering that they were cooped up with men for so long. It’s as if he’s afraid to tackle the idea that despite the nobility of these characters that they could be flawed)to truly draw them out so we get to know them. ***

Although a flawed film “The Walk Back” is still a worthwhile rental even if it isn’t a top notch Weir film.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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