'The Way Back'
(Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, Mark Strong, et al / DVD / PG-13 / (2010) 2011 / IMAGE Entertainment)
Overview: Inspired by an incredible true story, The Way Back begins in 1940 when seven prisoners attempt the impossible: escape from a brutal Siberian gulag. Thus begins a treacherous 4,500-mile trek to freedom across the world's most merciless landscapes. They have little food and few supplies. They don't know or trust each other. But together, they must withstand nature at its most extreme.
DVD Verdict: Peter Weir's epic film, inspired by The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz, is a popular story that has embedded itself into the hearts the minds of several generations of readers. A movie adaptation has been "in development" one way or another for over 50 years. Burt Lancaster was attached as the lead at one time.
As written, the astonishing story is about Cavalry officer Slavomir Rawicz who was captured by the Red Army in 1939 during the German-Soviet division of Poland. Rawicz is sent to the Yakutsk labor camp in the Siberian Gulag along with captive Poles, Finns, Ukrainians, Czechs, Greeks and a few English, French, and Americans.
After a year of extreme hardship, Rawicz and six comrades escape and make their way, on foot, over four thousand miles south to British India, where Rawicz reenlists in the Polish army to fight the Nazis!
There has been much controversy about the truth of this popular and inspiring story. Although the circumstances of the story didn't happen to writer Rawicz, they apparently are based on real events and real individuals. Peter Weir's movie is old school filmmaking. Exotic locations and majestic vistas imbue the relatively modest budget ($30m) epic with more than a semblance of authenticity.
Ed Harris is a standout as the mysterious Mister Smith. His wonderfully weathered, grizzled face matches the sometimes gnarly terrain. Even with a plethora of walking and talking, this is a journey worth taking. It is as much about our shared landscape as it is about our collective, indomitable spirit.
To be sure, Weir films a visually gorgeous movie and it is worth seeing if for no other reason than the cinematography. But having said this the scenery takes center stage. The characters take a far back row. Janusz is remarkably flat and undeveloped and he develops little throughout the film. We discover nothing particularly interesting about him throughout the movie, even though he is the main protagonist.
Valka, a criminal who forces the group to take him with them proves to have a peculiar affinity for Stalin, and in the final analysis refuses to leave the USSR after trekking miles and miles across wilderness with them. Very strange. Ed Harris is, well - there. The rest of the characters are pretty forgettable. [RS] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.77:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Behind the Scenes Featurette