The Way Back
Zach Davis

Directed by: Peter Weir

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Dragos Bucur, Mark Strong, Gustaf Skarsgård, and Alexandru Potocean

Russell Boyd’s cinematography captures the isolation of true wilderness over a vast array of landscapes.  The Way Back beautifully displays scenes of false peace through snow capped forests carpeting rolling hills, expansions of barren desert where the air seems to suck the life out of the ground, and unforgiving mountains that seem to curse the sky.  All of the shots provide a perfect moment away from the grim and suspenseful story, while providing a good backdrop for the challenges that the protagonists face.  The film was shot in Bulgaria, Morocco, Australia, and India.

The story opens with Janusz (Jim Sturgess) being interrogated by the Russian military on accusations of being a spy.  After forcing a confession out of his wife, the Soviets sentence Janusz to a Siberian Gulag.  At the Gulag, Janusz befriends Khabarov (Mark Strong) who plants the seed of escape in Janusz’s head.  Janusz also befriends American prisoner Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) who informs him that Khaborov is untrustworthy.  The two then set off on a plan of their own to escape.  They enlist several other inmates Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård), Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), Zoran (Dragos Bucur), and Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky) to help gather extra food.   The night of the escape, Janusz is grabbed at knifepoint by Valka (Colin Ferrall), a Russian criminal who has learned of the escape attempt and wants to join.  After making it out, the real story begins as the seven former prisoners must make it from their Siberian captives all the way to India.  In their exodus from communist rule, they are joined by a mysterious girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan) who never seems to be who she says.

The Way Back has a great ensemble cast, but character development seems to be a problem for director Peter Weir.  Many of the main characters remain underdeveloped throughout the film’s entirety.  This definitely holds true in the cases of Voss, Zoran, Kazik and Tomasz.  The rest of the principle characters however are very multidimensional and intriguing.

Jim Sturgess was fantastic as Janusz.  He skillfully portrays a strong-willed man determined to hold onto his honor and his values in the face of such great adversity.  Sturgess’ accent however was a bit off at times.  Ed Harris plays a man truly alone as the only American in the bunch.  Harris captures a man on the edge of giving up who decides to put a little more effort forward in one more try at life.  Colin Farrell definitely brings some chops to this film as a hardened Russian criminal with nowhere to go.

One true standout in the film is Saoirse Ronan who has a difficult role.  She balances a deceitful character that lies and manipulates to remain in the company of the men with one that faces the wilderness on her own without them.

Minor hiccups in accents and a few underdeveloped characters don’t detract too much from the overall power The Way Back delivers.  They are enough though to warrant a little help to overlook them.  Wine coolers should work perfectly for this one.