Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Way Back (2010)

Upon my viewing of Peter Weir's adventure-drama "The Way Back," I couldn't help but immediately think of Kevin Smith's ignorant (albeit humorous) depiction of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in his 2006 film, "Clerks II." In the film, his main character, Randall, mocks the epic Peter Jackson trilogy, claiming that "all it was was a bunch of people walking." Bearing that in mind, I can't even begin to fathom what Kevin Smith's reaction to "The Way Back" would be.

In his latest film, Peter Weir takes on a story of magnificent historical ramifications. He is portraying the tale of the -- allegedly -- true story of a group of prisoners who escaped a Siberian labor camp during World War II, only to walk 4,000 miles to India towards freedom.

I say allegedly because the film is based off a 1955 book called "The Long Walk" written by a Polish army lieutenant named Slawomir Rawicz, who claimed to have conducted the arduous trek himself. However, over years, reports have surfaced that Rawicz did not in fact complete this walk, and other individuals have stepped forward, claiming that they were the ones who actually conducted the walk. Though the credibility of such an occurrence may come with some skepticism, there's no denying that, true or false -- or embellished -- , it certainly makes for a great story.

Peter Weir's portrayal of this 4,000 mile walk is a visual spectacle. And how can it not be? Take somebody with Peter Weir's abilities and pedigree, and combine it with such sights as the Himalayan Mountains and the Gobi Desert, and you're going to be in for a treat. Throughout these settings, the characters, walk, and they walk, and they walk some more, and they argue, and they walk again.

The film features an ensemble cast, most notably Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Ferrell, among others. It is a tale of hope, determination, and brotherhood, as men from different cultures and backgrounds form the ultimate pact to do whatever it takes to survive, and to live as free men.

It is also a tale of cynicism versus optimism, with Sturgess portraying the hopeful, energetic, and arguably naive leader, and Ed Harris playing the wily old cynic, at one point even warning Sturgess by saying, "Kindness. That can kill you here."

Jim Sturgess leading the group through the Gobi Desert in "The Way Back."
Peter Weir has many gems under his belt, including "Dead Poet's Society," "The Truman Show," and more recently, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." In short, the man knows how to make a film. However, I thought that, like "Master and Commander", "The Way Back" has a weakness: too many characters, too little character depth. At certain points, even towards the end of the film, you see a face, and you forget who the character is. Not that it entirely negates all the good that the film delivers, but it was something that I couldn't get past.

However, there is one other character that Weir did get right -- the world. In a movie that involves one long, epic journey, the landscape becomes its own entity; the mud, the sand, the rivers, the lakes and the mountains feel as real as the men who walk upon them. And with that, you experience their plight. You grimace when a character takes off his shoe, revealing his bloody foot, you thirst when the men travel through the desert, and when they finally find a well to quench their thirst, you breath a sigh of relief.

The makeup was done so phenomenally well, that I recall thinking that whoever was responsible for it certainly deserves accolades. Very rarely have I actually cringed at the physical appearance of characters in a movie, but I did so in "The Way Back." And with what the characters' go through, it only makes sense. I later saw that the film did indeed receive an Oscar nomination during the 2010 season for Best Achievement in Makeup, and deservedly so.

From start to finish, "The Way Back" is a film that will wear you out, will mesmerize you, will awe you visually, and will make you glad that we currently live in a time of relative peace and tranquility. Whether it is a true story or not, there's no question that Peter Weir brings it to life.

~ Review by Ddubbs

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