The Movie: 7.5/10
I do like a good survival tale now and again. Humans overcoming great odds and physical challenges against mother nature to survive, to live another day. Man vs. nature is what the scholars call it I believe. Could we survive beyond our comfortable lives, houses to protect us, food on our table, water to keep us alive? Movies say it’s possible, and some true stories confirm it. So, where does The Way Back fall into it all. It is claiming to be based on true events. If that means there was a WWII and the events they mention were real in history, yes, those things are true. If a group of men escaped a gulag in Siberia and walked to India, 4000 miles away, I have my doubts.
That was the one nagging thing about the movie. I did enjoy it, if you can say such a thing about a movie with so much suffering and struggle. The acting isn’t great, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The places are amazing. It’s just that when you say something is based on true events and the whole time I’m fighting that feeling that it’s just sooooo outrageous in scope and seemingly literary license that it just can’t be true. I had to let that feeling go about half way through the movie or it would have been to much of a distraction. Once we had our intermission, you know, bathroom break and gather beverages, I just sat back and let the “truth” go and it was much more enjoyable as a story.
A group of men, a Russian criminal, an American, a chef, a Polish soldier, a professor, all put in the gulag for different reasons, but really all the same. They were a threat to the Communist way of thinking. Well, the criminal was just a criminal, nothing special or political about him. They escape in the middle of a snow storm, which only begins their struggles against nature. Breaking free from the confines of human ideals holding them captive would be the catalyst for their escape. Therefore, it’s man vs. man, man vs. nature, and then man vs. himself, a variety of conflicts to contend with in this story.That’s what I do find compelling about the movie. It’s not just action packed with constantly facing the elements, trying to survive, amazing locations, but it’s got a human force behind it. They aren’t just lost in the landscape trying to find home. They are driven by a force that cuts through the cold, the desert, the deprivation, a force that ultimately we all contend with, society, rules, humans who decide to think for us and make us mold into a way of life we might agree with. They are faced with oppression and fear, so dealing with Mother nature at the same time captivates me because I could, if I choose, go out into nature and see how I could survive….I won’t, but it’s something to relate to, kind of sort of.
The cast is the weakest part of the movie for me. I think Ed Harris is pretty good, off and on, and in this he’s intense, serious, the distant loner. Not a big stretch. The young woman does the best job of them all with some subtle gypsy nuances and being up against such a male dominated story. The main dude does a fine job and does hold the whole thing together with his ability to be all things, serious, light hearted, emotional, tough, even the more melodramatic moments are acceptable with him at the helm of the scene.
Don’t hope for the best performances over all or the most solidly made flick, you will find more flaws than you should. Just overlook the weaknesses and take in the scope of the story, the landscape, and imagine what you might do if faced with being imprisoned unjustly and your freedom only costs a few thousand miles of walking, cold, dehydration, burning desert, and mountains….would you go for freedom or accept your imprisonment?
- Behind The Scenes Featurette – For a “inspired by true events” type of story, the extras are not feeding my need for the “true” story part. This is a behind the scenes feature that is pretty good, but it doesn’t satisfy my itch to learn more. We do get the director and cast talking about making the movie. They show how they went to so many locations, how they got the cast, how Ed Harris is a loner, and more. It’s good, it just doesn’t help my gut feeling that this is not really based on a true story, but rather loosely uses true historic events to frame a fictional tale. Judge for yourself.
- Trailer – It’s a trailer, not an extra.
Cover Art and Menus: 3/10
Ugh, what a lame cover. I will tell you now, reading my little ‘review’ will tell you way more about the guts of this movie than that cover could ever promise to do. Why do they keep putting these boring slide-like, squared off head shots of cast members? It is not poster worthy, that’s for sure. I don’t get it. The menu is what it is, navigation with a background image.
Audio & Video: 8/10
The Way Back is presented on Blu-Ray using a fantastic 1080P AVC transfer. Some of Peter Weir’s cinematography is a little soft and out of focus but that is not a fault of the disc. What we have here is an epic movie that literally spans the globe, some of the ariel photography looks like it comes right from the BBC Planet Earth disc.
Audio is booming and lifelike, highlights include an awesome sandstorm, and anytime it is windy in the movie you will know about it. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is really standout stuff. Also the movie contains quite a bit of non English language that has subtitles hard coded into the image.
I’m feeling neutral on the value of this movie and the whole Blu-Ray package. I was captivated by the movie, but the extras are, well, THE extra is not satisfying at all. It’s not an easy movie to recommend to lots of folks because it’s got a specific vibe that’s not for everyone. That makes it a hard value for the money kind of purchase. It’s a definite rental for an evening of digging in for a dramatic journey story and some hard core thinking, maybe, about the human spirit.
Overall Score 7.5/10