From Russia with love
Despite my vow to run forward and rip the screen apart the next time I see “based on a true story”, I remained in my seat for The Way Back, mostly because Peter Weir has proven that he knows what he’s doing, whether he’s portraying an Amish community hiding a big city cop (Witness), tugging at your heartstrings with the sentimental school drama Dead Poets Society, or simply making one of the best movies ever (Master and Commander, of course).
The Way Back follows a group of gulag escapees who in 1940 walked 4000 miles from Siberia to India to reach free soil. The feat gives Weir plenty of opportunity to display his talent for the grand tableau (snowy landscapes; rugged, bare mountain ranges; endless desert), which is on a par with his equally great talent for directing actors.
Harris delivers one of his best performances as the crusty, troubled American Mr. Smith. Despite their somewhat questionable Russian and Polish accents, Sturgess, Farrell and Ronan are entirely believable as Janusz, Valka, and Irena. Indeed, the accents help to blend the English-language leads with some fantastic international talent, like the Romanian Alexandru Potocean, the Swedish Gustaf Skarsgård, or the German Sebastian Urzendowsky.
In addition to the striking images and the human drama, Weir has one basic message: that even under the worst of circumstances, human beings always have the choice to remain humans. A blessing and a curse.
The Way Back | Directed by Peter Weir (USA 2010) with Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrel, Saoirse Ronan. Opens June 30