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- Story -
This movie follows a group of Russian (Siberian) Gulag prisoners who plan to break free and head for India, a journey in a very harsh environment that consists of travelling by foot many thousands of miles. Set in the 1940s when the second world war was starting to fully 'grip' the world, this is a partially war based drama movie - can these people escape and manage to survive the perilous journey to the hopefully safer country of India? at what toll is this and will they be traced? you'll have to watch the movie to find out.
- Thoughts & Opinions -
This is a sobering account which doesn't sugar coat the situation. It paints a rather bleak, stark and barron picture of the journey these people went on which brings up moral questions in terms of what the right thing to do is at certain points in the movie - whether to somewhat prey on the weaker individuals if it is to help the greater good of the group and suchlike.
There becomes suspicions within the group at times, the motives of others come into doubt - one character is shown from fairly early on as having dubious motives and its hinted at that the journey their about to embark on, that what others say shouldn't necessarily be taken seriously, which throws up even more questions. As the movie continues and the groups journey truly gets underway, things get more interesting. The movie is clearly quite gritty and dark, with a fair few darker shots, literally in that the lighting is quite dark so seeing all thats going on is a bit difficult at times but then in a sense that adds to the dark, gloomy undertone of the movie and having thought about it, its probably partly to do with the part of the world its set in (Russia - near to Siberia and Mongolia I believe), with where it is in terms of the equator, it may get darker sooner etc. anyway the characters all have their own intricacies.
On one hand the story is rather slow and winding but on the other hand, there are some very tense scenes which make you fear for the characters affected. There are some quite impressive panoramic landscape shots which highlight the environment the group were travelling in (I say were as if its a true story but this seems to be in doubt - its loosely based on memoirs which have been heavily challenged for their accuracy, as far as I'm led to believe - if interested, you can read about it here:- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1023114/faq#​.2.1.1). The musical score is quite 'earthy', mainly instrumental and helps add to the atmosphere, tension and again bring home the barrenness of the situation at some points, so thats quite effective. There are political and historical elements to the story of course, bare in mind this is set in the early '40s, so WWII was just at the outset - indeed there are Polish people featured who were prisoners at the Gulag, so that's might be worth pointing out. History has never been my strong point by any means really, so I don't feel im too qualified to criticise such references really.
Personally, the performances that stood out the most for me were that of Colin Farrell (who, coincidentally, again portrays the rather more rebellious, macho type figure who's rather self centered and domineering initially) and Saoirse Ronan, the seemingly strong yet adolescent female character. She tries to paint a certain picture of herself at first and others are sceptical but the group dynamics towards her change and she does well to portray such a ultimately vulnerable character. Maybe I'm biased as those are the two main actors/actresses I recognise (their both of irish descent - coincidence? I've no idea really), as its also worth pointing out that many characters are played by foreign actors who I can only presume from their surnames, come from eastern Europe or otherwise similar regions to where this movie was set in and filmed.
There isn't a large amount of violence present in this movie, its more the scenes of these characters slowly wasting away, with their faces looking certainly the worse for wear that will upset and scare younger viewers, hence the 12 certificate rating - I couldn't imagine many younger kids or teens wanting to watch such a movie or really enjoying it as such, though this isn't really a movie you 'enjoy' in that sense of the word, if you know what I mean. There is some blood present but the majority of the violence is mainly hinted at rather than shown in any real detail, I'd say.
Have no doubts about it, this is a bleak movie but it does maintain a story and I felt I wanted to follow the journey these characters were on, to its ultimate ending or destination. Its perhaps not the most engaging move for everyone, if you want constant visual action to keep you entertained then this isn't for you but as a slowly winding movie thats believable and quite atmospheric, with good character development, its certainly worth a watch - a competent, rather harrowing movie indeed, one with a very moving ending it has to be said as well.
- Would I Recommend It? -
Yes, if this appeals then I'd say its worth a watch as the performances are good, the story is interesting, its somewhat original and it features some good landscape shots as well as a particularly engrossing musical score. Its a rather harrowing and sobering movie but its certainly well made - some thought went into this and it shows. It won't appeal to everyone but for what it is, I'm happy to recommend it.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you found it useful and many thanks for all rates and comments (rates especially at the moment, their much needed! thanks again).
The Way Back
This is a film only review, I repeat, a film only review
Continuing my season of film reviews and my ongoing Barry Norman impression (showing my age there) I shall be enlightening you with a review of last night's movie - The Way Back.
The writer and director of this recently released film is Peter Weir, an Australian who has directed some very notable films including The Mosquito Coast, Gallipoli, Truman Show and Dead Poets Society to name but just a few. The film is based on the true story of Slavomir Rawicz or Witold Glinski depending on who you believe as both men have claimed that the book which this film is based is of their incredible story.
So what is this incredible story you ask. Quite simply it is the story of a group of escapees from a Siberian gulag and their 4000 mile journey overland to India in 1942. The group of escapees is quite an eclectic bunch of individuals and it would be a crime to label this 'a film about people walking out of Russia' as there is so much more to this film that than that.
I'm going to set my stall out early and say I really enjoyed this film. There was so much to enjoy about this film, firstly;
I can count the number of Colin Farrell films I have enjoyed on two maybe three fingers, but in the role of a Valka, a knife wielding thug, he excelled and as the film progressed so did his Russian accent. Ed Harris gave an assured performance as Mr Smith with all the usual gravitas you would expect from this fine actor. I was also hugely impressed with Saoirse Ronan who played Irena, a young girl picked up along the travels. The interaction between Smith and Irena in a father-daughter way was acting straight out of the top draw. Brit actor Jim Sturgess playing the lead part of Janusz also put in a sterling acting performance as the cast interacted well under Weirs stewardship.
When actors try foreign accents it can go horribly and detract from the film, (Kevin Bacon - White Elephant) but when you find yourself commending the likes of Colin Farrell on his fine acting and accent, you know there is a good director behind the film and really, Peter Weir is one of the best.
The landscapes filmed in this are breathtakingly immense. From the snow filled woodlands, through the deserts of Mongolia, on to the mountains of Tibet and finally at the lush hills of India, you cannot fail to be taken in by the wonderful scenery so beautifully filmed. Even the interaction and personal struggles of the characters take prominence; you are enveloped into the majestic vastness of the landscapes; truly awe inspiring stuff.
The human element to the story is a fascinating one. The interaction between the characters is excellent and I love the way the characters unfold throughout the story with subtlety and finesse. The suffering and struggle for freedom is portrayed intelligently and brilliantly and whilst my only criticism can be that a few of the characters were not developed enough, you really got to know most of the main characters.
Even though this film was long at 133 minutes, the more the film progressed, the more it had the feel of an epic about it. An interesting enough storyline made fascinating by quality directing, magnificent cinematography, inspired casting and some very good acting. It was all too easy getting lost in this film and the subtle nuances to the film make this one I would definitely watch again.
Rating - PG-13
Cast -Ed Harris
Director Peter Weir
IMDB - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1023114/
Film Only Review:
This is a 2010 release drama film which concerns a gang of convicted men who escape from a prison worker camp in Siberia and the hellish journey of 4000 miles to their freedom in India. In terms of what kind of film this is - it has shades of survival movies like '127 Hours' and 'Into The Wild'.
This film is based on a supposedly semi-autobiographical novel although the director Peter Weir now refers to the film as being essentially "fictional" after the novel's facts were deemed questionable. The film opens with a written tribute which I feel should have come up after the credits rolled as the tribute bascially informs you of the ending of the film. As a viewer, I don't care all that much if this film is based on reality or completely invented but I would have liked to watched the film not knowing about the survival chances of the central characters so that the events of the film were more suspenseful for me.
The opening scene introduces us to the main character of the film. Prior to watching this movie I had never heard of English actor Jim Sturgess but I was immediately struck by his wonderful acting ability and physical attractiveness and I would love to see him in more central roles like this one. Sturgess plays Janusz Wieszczek, a heroic young Polish soldier who is sent to the Siberian camp after being accused of criticising the political regime. In the gulag he is subjected to starvation, hard labour, freezing conditions and bullying from the other captives. Unable to bear this sitauation he teams up with some of the other men to form an escape party hoping to escape from Siberia into a non-Communist country.
Among Janusz's allies is Ed Harris who plays an American prisoner who will only give his name as 'Mr Smith'. Harris is really great in this role as a silent, tortured lonewolf who struggles to open up to others about his past and his emotions. For me Harris's character is the emotional heart of the movie and he is the one whom I am most curious about and the one I care most for. Harris is the standout actor of the piece.
Another prisoner in the escaped gang is Colin Farrell who plays Valka, a hard, nasty violent Russian who practically forces the rest of the escapees to let him go with them. I didn't recognise Farrell at first as he has an incredible Russian accent to the extent that you would honestly believe he didn't speak two words of English. The character development that occurs during Valka's long trek to freedom is interesting and towards the final scenes with this character I had really changed my feelings towards him.
There are several other men who undertake this trek through the horrendous snow and storms of Siberia but their characters are not fleshed out enough for me to have really invested in them emotionally. I definitely think that instead of continuously focusing on the characters walking and walking in agony that a little longer should have been spent on defining who these men were and why they deserved their freedom.
The escapees go through hell in their attempt to escape Siberia, a country which the men are told is an entire prison to them. The climate and conditions are variable and goes from one extreme to the next. Hard snow storms and mountainous terrain is followed by baking desert country where there is no water. The men are driven to hunger to the extent that they want to eat one another. I found watching their plight really difficult especially when their pain and suffering is shown so vividly. We have to see things like toes almost falling off, teeth coming out as people eat, legs almost bursting open as they have swollen so large etc. It's not pretty and towards the end it is almost unbearable to see them suffer. The film actually won an Acadamy Award for Best Make Up and I'm not surprised as it genuinely looks like these people have been exposed to months of snow and sun with their wind blasted, blistered faces.
I like that the dynamic changes part way through the arduous trek when the men pick up a female straggler played by Saoirse Ronan. Her arrival means the men step back from being like rabid cavemen and actually start to regain their manners and sense of sociability again. The interplay between Ronan's character Irena and Ed Harris's Mr Smith is lovely and I would have liked their relationship to have been given even more screen time.
I found this movie started to feel very long and I noticed this in the middle of the movie. There are many superfluous trekking scenes where all we see is the characters walking over deserted landscapes saying nothing. The only good thing about this is the wonderful musical score which plays during these scenes and which is beautiful and touching. However, I found the frequency of such scenes to be to exceed that which was needed.
The end of the movie is intelligent and moving and makes a tragic hero out of Janusz. I felt emotionally invested in his character throughout the film and thought the ending was a perfect one for his character. However, the triumphant ending for some of the other characters involved was muted for me since I felt I didn't know them as well as I knew Janusz.
Ultimately I enjoyed this movie and would like to watch it again as I think I could experience it differently second time around. I do think that perhaps there is too much focus on the physcial journey of these people and too little focus on their emotional journey though. I also thought it was a little too long with some of the scenes feeling like they could have been cut down a little. The cast is strong though and it looks like a lot of effort has gone into the production.
Star - Colin Farrell
Run Time - 129 minutes
Country - USA/Poland
Awards - One Oscar nomination (technical)
Cert - 12A
Genre - Drama/Adventure
So, The Way Back, based on Slavomir Rawicz's 1955 book, presumably of the same name, recounting the story of his and fellow prisoners time and then escape from a harsh Siberian gulag in 1944, claiming, Forest Gump style, that they just kept going and going south east to evade the Russian army and ended up in India, some 4000 miles away, and all on foot, as you do.
It was a book that inspired many adventurers and hippies to do similar journeys over the years and made Slavomir quite a few rubles in the process, and so a great idea to make a movie of such heroism, which the great Peter Weir has done, his first film for seven years. But, heres the thing. In 2006 when the project was being passed around for funding the BBC were making a documentary on the gulags and discovered a one 'Slavomir Rawicz' in their research, a man who was actually 'released' from the gulag in 1942 for good behavior, two years before the books claims, and during summertime, not quite the same tale of battling against all the odds. A man called Witold Glinski, a Polish soldier, then stepped forward and said Rawicz had stolen the idea from him and it was he who had done the 4000 mile trip, again a story that was quickly challenged. All you can say about that is how nice to have some Poles going the other way for once.
Colin Farrell ... Valka
Mark Strong ... Khabarov
Saoirse Ronan ... Irena
Jim Sturgess ... Janusz
Ed Harris ... Mr. Smith
Gustaf Skarsgård ... Voss
Alexandru Potocean ... Tomasz
Dragos Bucur ... Zoran
Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Polish POW, is being grilled by a Soviet officer over his loyalties and activities after his occupied country has been dived by the Russian and German invasions in World War 2. Janusz refuses to do as he is told and admit his guilt. In another room his wife has been tortured and forced to make a statement against her husband, earning him 20 years in a Siberian Gulag.
At the camp, Jan hooks up with and America engineer, Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), who introduces him to an actor named Khabarov (Mark Strong), an artist called Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård), a Latvian priest and Zoran (Dragos Bucur), an accountant from Yugoslavia. The weakest in their hut is a Pole; Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who suffers from night blindness. The strongest is Valka (Colin Farrell), a tough Russian criminal who proudly wears his tattoos to show his loyalty to Russia. Valka, like many criminals back then, liked to wear an image of either Lenin or Stalin on their callous skin, back and front, so they wouldn't be shot by the Russian army as it was supposed to be illegal to deface an image of either Lenin or Stalin. Sadly it is but false hope and a gun to the back of the head in this part of the world was and no doubt is still the norm, as we see in the prison during the film, no doubt an old wives tail encouraged by tattoo artists.
Khabarov has a plan to escape, Mr Smith in agreement, the two hiding away scraps of what food they get for the journey, the plan to try and make it to a big lake below the mountains 8 days away where they can fish and restock, then push on to Mongolia and freedom.
After Janusz is condemned to hard labor in the salt mines he, too, is soon on board, the rest when they seize their chance to flee during a heavy blizzard returning from the mines, Valka, not in on it but soon tagging along when he sees what's going down. The camp is a place where kindness can kill and so taking their chances in the hundreds of miles of snow, ice, forest and wolves is better than their grim fete if they stay in the gulag.
Outrunning the dogs and guards they are soon on the road to freedom, but lost just as quick, hold up in a cave, half-way between the gulag and the warmer climes of the lake, cold, hungry and almost defeated. Janusc, empowered to get back to his wife, decides to try and find the lake alone with what's left of the food, the guys now munching bugs and raw animal meat as the wolves close in on what looks like either's next meal if the situation gets any worse.
When Janusc returns with the good news of the lakes relative proximity they make it out as the temperature warms up and spirits rise. And it is here we are introduced to Irena (Saoirse Ronan), a pretty young Polish woman who tells a tall tale so she too can tag along with them for protection, also fleeing the Russians. But when it feels like their freedom is secured as the Mongolian border approaches, it turns out the Russians have expanded their empire since the guys have been incarcerated and the boys and girls still have along way to go to freedom. A very long way, India the new plan, over the foothills of the Himalayas...
What ever the true story the movie stands on the viewer believing in that true story for any sort of impact to be had. If not then you're just watching some smelly hungry blokes on a bloody long walk. Now you know how a homeless person's dog feels! Peter Weir, he of classics like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, Witness, Green Card, Dead Poets Society, Truman Show and then Master and Commander, his phenomenal cannon of work, somewhat outrageously, yet to score an Oscar from six nominations, stands by his film and is happy that the journey happened and it's a heroic tale worth telling. Because of that doubt, this, not surprisingly, wasn't nominated for an Oscar.
With some subtitles and two hours of this it's a long watch guys. I'm not quite sure about Colin Farrell's Russian ascent either but without him and Ed Harris on board then I doubt if Peter Weir would have got this funded big and so as grandiose as it is on screen. At one point I expected Bear Grylls to pop up from undergrowth it was that wilderness intense. Bear, of course, stays in hotels overnight as the TV production can't afford the insurance for most of the deeds he is supposed to do.
Saying that the film is all very fine and feels authentic and the actors really do act in the extremes of cold and heat that the prisoners had to endure to add extra tension and atmosphere. Jim Sturgess is the best of the bunch and Ed Harris still Ed Harris in every movie he does. It's a very visual experience and appeals that way although the locations of the shoot don't parry with the actual locations in the book. I think most of the cold and forestry bits were shot in Poland and the hot bits in Arizona. When you learn that 80% of Star Wars was filmed near Welwyn Garden City Sainsbury's a film can quickly lose its romantic appeal.
As I said the big problem here is it is some blokes wandering through forests and then around a lake and then some deserts and then some more forests and then some mountains, looking for food and water on the way. No one seems to be chasing them and so no tension there, very much that fish out of water Peter Weir thing where the main protagonists do battle with their environment in a bid to escape their current lives. It really needed more action and some liberties taken although it was a nice surprise that the token totty didn't turn it into a love story. The fact we don't know the story also adds something as we don't know who will die and who will live, except the author, of course.
The punters didn't go for it though as the $40 million budget saw just $29 million back, a flop, not a great return to form for the always ambitious Weir. I suspect the multiplex goers from the first week wondered out dazed and bleary eyed from the three hours and couldn't recommend it to their friends, bad word of mouth. There's an itchy bum syndrome in cinemas where any film well over two hours that's not great by half-way becomes an irritable experience, whether the second half is any good or not. It's as three stars as you can get for a big and bold movie.
Imdb.com - 7.4/10.0 (29,568 votes)
Metacritic.com - 66% critics approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 75% critics approval rating
Leonardo Maltin's Film Year Book -
The Guardian - "There are exhilarating moments, and there are some undeniably tense scenes. Mixed in, however, is possibly more trudging than you're going to see in any other film"
The Independent - "This artful tale of survival against the elements - radiating terror and beauty - continues Peter Weir's fascination with characters trapped by worlds they didn't make".
The LA Times - "It's unfortunate that Peter Weir's first film in seven years, although a remarkable story, by its very nature risks tediousness".
The Phoenix Times -"However, among solid performances, beautiful locations, and a truly harrowing journey, this film left me feeling empty."
--Cast & Crew--
General chat from Farrell and friends.
Quite a few as you can imagine
Nice holiday snaps of the icy tundra.