An outstanding tale of survival directed by Peter Weir, the trek-loving filmmaker known for his stories associated with distant earthly places. The Way Back is based on a true story of several prisoners of the Soviet Union, incarcerated for inexplicable reasons, who made a daring escape into the Siberia tundra with the intention of walking to non-Communist land. However, the closest non-Stalinstic or non-Soviet-friendly nation was thousands of miles south in Tibet.
Starring several top-notch performers including Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, and Mark Strong, this film is heavily influenced by the works of British master filmmaker, David Lean, and his own daring adventure films. Like The Sound Barrier, our main character will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Like The Bridge on the River Kwai, this film reveals the horrors of captivity. Like Lawrence of Arabia, this film shows the hardships of the desert and the strife to survive (in this film, the Gobi Desert of Mongolia). Finally, like Doctor Zhivago, the film offers glimpses into the horrors of Soviet-brand communism and its terrifying constraints on people’s everyday lives.
Unlike a lot of films with this type of premise, The Way Back does not completely delve into characters causing drama in interaction. The drama is caused by their environment entirely. Occasionally, Colin Farrell’s Mafioso character starts trouble, but it is quickly defused by nature or the exhaustiveness of their surroundings. One of the more impressive elements to this film is the honor and nobility of the characters. Saoirse Ronan plays the only principal female character in the entire film, and at no time, do any of the males try to take advantage of her. The script, also penned by Weir, makes it very clear that there is no time to show vulnerability. The men are very supportive of the girl and she is very appreciative of their patience toward her.
In many ways, this film represents an old style of filmmaking. No cheap shots, no exploitation, and no cliché tricks. It is a film that tells a beautiful story, plain and simple.