The Way Back
The Way Back may not be familiar to a lot of people yet, but I think it’ll get a wider release soon. It’s got too much going for it to be considered an “independent” movie.
The Way Back is based on a memoir* by a World War II prison camp worker in Siberia, Russia. He and six others escape during a blizzard, then have to trek 4000 miles across Siberia, Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas, to reach India and avoid recapture.
The cast is good. Ed Harris, Mark Strong, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, and Saoirse Ronan are all actors you’ve seen (and liked) before, and they all do good work here. There are also several no-name actors rounding out the escapees, but they fit in nicely–each one has a definite individual personality.
It’s not really an action movie, but it is an adventure. The scenarios they face as they walk across the biggest continent in the world are always daunting and sometimes awe-inspiring. I was occasionally aghast at what they had to do. And the scenery, while often desolate, is amazing.
The movie has a few things I didn’t like though. While enjoyable, the movie is a bit too long. I’m not sure what I would cut, but I’m not an editor. I’m sure they could find something. Also, a couple of the characters make important choices that I didn’t think were realistic. Now, I’m not those characters and thankfully not in that situation. But at least twice, I thought “Why would he ever do that?” Trying not to give too much away, one character, after finally getting through Siberia, turns around because he can’t bring himself to leave his homeland. The same homeland that threw him in a prison camp and where he’ll be executed if caught. I didn’t buy it.
Maybe most egregiously, the climax of the movie is rushed and (ironically) anticlimactic. After everything they’ve been through, the final obstacle–the Himalayas, for Pete’s sake!–had very little screen time or impact. It leaves you wanting as you exit the theater.
And if I may nitpick a little, I was really upset that there was no map to be found in the movie. I didn’t want an Indiana Jones map, with a moving red line, but they should have shown an actual map showing their path. It would have been very easy to do during the end credits–just like they show pictures of real people at the end of true stories. Instead, I was trying to remember Asian geography with only moderate success.
As a story of resilience, determination, and some amazing situations that leave you wondering about your own courage, it entertains and I enjoyed watching it. It just doesn’t get enough right that I would recommend it without reservation.
*The memoir has been disputed by several sources. It hasn’t been proven false, but holes in the story have been pointed out. So it may or may not be true at all. But it ultimately doesn’t matter when it comes to the movie’s merits.