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Friday, 21 January 2011 01:00

The Way Back is grueling and true

The Way Back is grueling and true
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Dates: Opens January 21, 2011

The opening title cards of writer/director Peter Weir's The Way Back state: "In 1941 three men walked out of the Himalayas into India. They had survived a 4000 mile walk to freedom." Accompanied by ominous music and eerily mechanistic sound effects with the hint of a frigid wind, this astonishing information introduces a grueling survival tale based on real events.

In 1956 Slavomir Rawicz wrote The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom chronicling his and six other men's escape from a Siberian gulag. However, a BBC investigation proved this account fraudulent. To be precise, it happened but not to Rawicz. Enthralled by the story, Australian director Weir fictionalizes the seven escaped prisoners while verifying through meticulous research every detail down to the guard's uniforms and the nationality of each man, including one American engineer known as Mister Smith and played brilliantly by the charismatic Ed Harris.

The harrowing condemnation to the Soviet labor camp focuses on Polish soldier Janusz Wieszczek, convicted on trumped up charges of spying, confirmed by torturing his wife. Quickly in the gulag, scenes of the work environment, including Siberian blizzards, provide all the motivation needed for the daring flight across Siberia and Mongolia, through the Gobi desert, into Tibet and eventually India after 1½ years.

As dramatic as the physical endurance ordeal is the emotional resilience, determination, and courage needed to continue to put one foot in front of the other for 4,000 miles with minimal food and water. When one man or another or the teenage girl who follows and joins them flags in energy, the other pick them up figuratively and literally. Colin Farrell plays Valka, the most volatile, cutthroat prisoner. John Sturgess is a thoughtful, inspirational Janusz, and Saoirse Ronan is a complex Irina. The chemistry within the group offers a charged, fascinating study of the struggle. Details involve dealing with lice and mosquitoes, important elements of this reality.

Russell Boyd's cinematography captures the breathtaking beauty as well as the monumentally inhospitable terrain. Spare but well-chosen music interprets moods, and Lee Smith's editing effects a reasonable pace through the journey. The Way Back documents through absorbing interaction what it takes to conquer oneself and the elements. At area cinemas.

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