The Way Back - Blu-ray Review

'engrossing, deliberate and varied and the care which Weir and his cast give to their story is commendable'

Peter Weir's overlooked travel film about a group of men escaping from a Russian Gulag is amazing for all sorts of reasons but consider the following image for a second to get a handle on the reasons behind The Way Back's true power to shock and amaze.

The points on the map roughly represent the key travelling points of the film as the band of escapees (led by Jim Sturgess) travel from Siberia - in the above roughly represented by the Russian town of Khamakar - to Lake Baikal, to Mongolia and on through to Tibet and India. It's an incredible journey, made even more incredible by what happens when you ask Google Maps to provide you with directions for it.

Without Google Maps to guide them Sturgess and his gang are faced with an incredible wilderness shot with Weir's usual eye for dramatic and vivid landscapes. Key to the film is the visual representation of the impossibility of the task facing the escapees and Weir creates foreground and background shots which emphasise the distances that need to be covered.

As with any 'impossible journey' film the gang of travellers are important and here Weir nails several welcome archetypes whilst creating others which lend a level of unpredictability to proceedings. Colin Farrell's criminal is brutish and unpredictable but there is always the suspicion of an internal unresolved conflict and his character's conclusion is unexpectedly well managed. Ed Harris provides strong artistic support as a lone American whilst lesser known actors Dragos Bucur and Gustaf SkarsgÄrd round off a strong travelling party.

Weir's film dips on occasions when he allows himself to get bogged down in typical travelogue structures which have no place in this film. A small series of actions in a cave all feel imported from other places; a character who seems to offer nothing to the group, the group devolving into animal-like entities, desperate for food. It's not that the actions seem out of place but they're never returned to and as such feel out of place.

The same could also be said for Saoirse Ronan's character Irena. A wandering girl the group encounter at around the hour mark, Ronan is as excellent as usual but the question is really whether she needs to be there at all. The group have enough variety of character and challenge of narrative without her inclusion and if she was omitted there must have been a very definite chance that the film could have come in under the two hour mark.

That said, the one-hundred and thirty-three minute runtime flies by. Rarely is The Way Back anything other than engrossing, deliberate and varied and the care which Weir and his cast give to their story is commendable. A tightly constructed epic with more than one spectacular star turn.

Look further...

'not as emotionally engaging as you would expect, but The Way Back features some beautiful sights to see' - Dan The Man's Movie Reviews, 7/10

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