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The Way Back

[Rating: 2.5/5]

What is the furthest distance you’ve ever walked?   For me, it probably tops out somewhere around ten miles, and that was in good weather, wearing good shoes.  Still, my feet felt like they were going to fall off, my back ached, and I never wanted to take another step again.  (Yes, I’m kind of a wimp.)  “The Way Back” is a film about a handful of men (and one fourteen year old girl) who escape from the gulags of Siberia and walk…all the way to India.   4000 miles, across some of the most treacherous, rugged, and beautiful country in the world.   Four.  Thousand.  Miles.

It’s an incredible story, a testament to the human will and endurance.  Sadly, that’s not enough to make it a compelling movie.  Because these men, and this girl, they don’t do much.  They walk, and walk, and walk.  Through blizzards, and swarms of mosquitos, across deserts, up mountains and down the other side.  “The Way Back” is co-produced by National Geographic, and it’s filled with some really amazing photography of landscapes.  But it’s a movie about a long haul, and it’s a long haul of a movie.   It took an incredible amount of perseverance to complete this journey, and not everyone who embarked survived.  It’ll take a much smaller act of perseverance to finish this movie, but not everyone who starts it will make it to the end.

Jim Sturgess, a Polish political prisoner who’s pretty sure he can use the survival skills he learned growing up in the woods to survive, leads the band of escapees.  Ed Harris is a mysterious American known only as “Mr. Smith;”  Colin Farrell is a Russian gangster who’s racked up too much debt playing cards in the gulag to stick around.   He brings a lot of energy to the film as the wild card; when he leaves halfway through, it’s like the air going out of a baloon.  Saiorse Ronan (of “Atonement” and the more recent “Hanna”) is a teenage orphan they pick up along the way, who learns everyone’s backstory, so that we can, also.   There’s also an artist and a comedian, and maybe one other.  A cook, I think.  They kind of all blend together.

Like I said, they walk, and walk, and walk.  One of the interesting things in “The Way Back” is to note all the different kinds of weather that can kill a man.  Some die in the desert, for lack of water and because of the heat.  Some die in blizzards, because of not enough heat and too much water.  There’s an awful lot of time for the mind to wander in “The Way Back,”  and I found myself marveling at the relatively small window of temperature and atmospheric moisture in which fragile humans can live and thrive, and how much of the planet is mostly uninhabitable.  These guys might as well have been walking across the moon, and sometimes it looks like they are.

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  1. Heather and I just watched this. I think your review is pretty right on. We found it interesting/disappointing that this “true story” has recently been questioned and even apparently debunked by the BBC.

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