Thursday, February 24, 2011
The Way Back
The Way Back; Drama/ Roadmovie, USA, 2010; D: Peter Weir, S: Jim Sturges, Ed Harris, Dragoş Bucur, Gustaf Skarsgård, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan
When his wife gives an extorted "political confession", Janusz, a Polish prisoner of war, is sent to a Siberian gulag during Stalin's rule of the Soviet Union. However, he and seven other convicts manage to escape during a snow storm and start their journey towards south. They meet a Polish girl, Irena, near the Baikal lake, and continue going south to Mongolia. When they realize that pseudo-communists rule even there, they continue walking through the Gobi desert. At Lhasa, American Mister Smith decides to stay in order to contact the US Embassy, while the other three - Janusz, Zoran and Voss - pass the Himalayas and arrive at India. 50 years later, Janusz returns to his wife.
After a 7 year pause, "Down Under's" master Peter Weir returned to the director's seat to make a movie about a rarely talked about topic in the cinema, Stalin's gulags, yet not quite achieving another quality film with "The Way Back". The incredible story about fugitives from the gulag who traveled a destination of 6400 km from Siberia to India by foot is interesting, but unfortunately fake - the book it is based on, "The Long Walk" by Sławomir Rawicz, is easily identified as senseless and imaginary when comparing the fact that the protagonists aimlessly traveled so far south (you do not have to get so "carried away" and walk a quarter of the planet in order to get away from a country) with Fritz Umgelter's similar '59 film "As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me" where a German fugitive travels from eastern Siberia towards west in order to go back to his homeland, which actually makes sense. The first half an hour of the film is great, displaying excellent details in actor Khabarov who was sent to a gulag just because he "played an aristocrat in a film" or in the masterful shot of the camera panning from a chopped tree down to a whole "trail" of manufacturing labour of the convicts in the forest, whereas Ed Harris is brilliant as the American convict Mr. Smith. However, the second half of the movie turns increasingly void and boring since the endless walk of the protagonists through the Gobi desert is directed without any passion, untypically bland for Weir, slowly turning into a "stranded whale", even in the schematic-preachy history lesson at the end. The locations and cinematography is marvelous, though.