Peter Weir Shows Us “The Way Back”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
What less-than-six-degrees connection can you make between Australian filmmaker Peter Weir and Kay West? Answer: He directed “Witness,” the movie in which Kelly McGillis played an Amish woman hiding from bad guys.
Weir also gave us such memorable films as “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “The Last Wave,” “The Truman Show,” and “Master and Commander.”
Quite a diverse offering – a vanishing, life in a boys prep school, a murder mystery, a sci-fi satire, and an epic sea saga.
So why should we be surprised that for his latest film Weir takes on a war drama in which seven escapees from a Russian gulag attempt to hike from Siberia to India? Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.
In the film’s beginning, we meet Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Polish POW who is sent to the gulag on his wife’s coerced testimony. There he encounters an assortment of prisoners that include an American known as Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), an actor called Khabarov (Mark Strong), the Russian criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), and a Yugoslav accountant named Zoran (Dragos Bucur), among others.
Comes a blinding snowstorm, they make a run for it, heading south toward Mongolia, then across the Gobi Desert toward the Himalayas – a 4,000-mile odyssey. Along the way they pick up an orphaned teenager named Irena (Saoirse Ronan) who has her own secrets.
Aside from the nearly insurmountable distance, the ragtag group faces freezing snow, blistering sun, dehydration, and life-threatening dangers. As you might expect, there are casualties on this grueling journey.
Ed Harris is a superb actor. Colin Farrell is a bad-boy heartthrob. Mark Strong a dramatic presence. And the lesser-known cast members acquit themselves well. That is to say, Peter Weir is a terrific director.
“The Way Back” is loosely based on a book titled “The Long Walk” by Slawomir Rawicz. Although it was promoted as a true story, an expose by BBC debunked Rawicz’s claims. Peter Weir now describes “The Way Back” as “essentially a fictional film.”
No matter. This is more a fable about man’s indomitable spirit than a history lesson. But you’ll be exhausted from sharing this trek.
[from Solares Hill]