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Freedom's Long Road
The Way Back (DVD)
Member Name: cyberem78
The Way Back (DVD)
Date: 10/03/12, updated on 10/03/12 (32 review reads)
Advantages: Ed Harris's performance.
Disadvantages: Would have liked to be more emotionally invested in some of the characters.
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.
Summary: A really good movie but it could have been much better.