‘The Way Back’ Review

Published 4 years ago by

the way back group The Way Back Review

Screen Rant’s Paul Young Reviews The Way Back

I don’t like to walk 200 FEET to get the mail everyday, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who can make a 4,000 MILE trek across an entire continent. That is exactly what a group of determined escapees attempt to do in The Way Back as they make the perilous journey from Siberia to India to gain their freedom.

The Way Back is loosely inspired by the book The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz, who claimed to be one of the three men that survived the trip – though the BBC uncovered evidence to the contrary shortly after his book was published.  Regardless of what is true or untrue, The Way Back is a compelling story with filled strong characters, believable scenarios and beautiful storytelling.

The story starts in 1939 with Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Polish officer being interrogated by a Russian officer who is accusing him of being a traitor and a spy – something Janusz vehemently denies. Unfortunately, if the Communist Russian government wants you in jail then you WILL end up in jail. To prove this point, they torture Janusz’s wife for a false confession and then ship him off to a Gulag deep in the frozen Siberian tundra.

Once there, Janusz is tossed into a world filled with violence, mistreatment and deplorable living conditions. The men he lives with include actors, foreigners and murderers, and he soon discovers who he can and cannot trust. Janusz becomes close with an actor, Khabarov (Mark Strong), whose crime was starring in a film that the Russian government deemed traitorous. Khabarov claims to know a way out of the camp and together the two plan their escape. Along the way Janusz makes allies with several other prisoners – the American, Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), Zoran (Dragos Bucur), Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), Tamasz (Alexandru Potocean), Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård) and the murderous Valka (Colin Farrell).

The escape scene is actually very short and seeing more of how they pulled it off would have been interesting; ultimately, all we get to see is a generator stop working then the guys in the woods running from dogs and soldiers. I understand why director Peter Weir shortened this part of the story, though, because the film is about the journey, not the escape.

the way back journey The Way Back Review

With very little food, no water, one knife, some flint and only the tattered clothes on their backs, the group bravely endures the harshest weather known to man – but at least they’re free. As they hike south towards the Trans-Siberian railroad in an attempt to enter Mongolia (where they think Communism doesn’t exist), the men must avoid all villages for fear of being turned in to the authorities. Along the way they encounter a young teenage Polish girl, Irena (Saoirse Ronan), who joins them in their travels. There are some truly touching scenes between each of the actors and Irena as she becomes the glue that holds them together, doing what none of them had done before they met her – engage in conversation.  Over the course of the next hour, we watch the group as they survive a variety of wild encounters from wolves, frigid temperatures, a lack of food and a mosquito infestation.

It’s not a short trip by any means as the group walks for weeks and then months. When they reach the Mongolia-Russian border, they realize in horror that another thousand or more miles lay in front of them. This part will be the toughest as they cross hundreds of miles of desert and then trek through the Himalayan Mountains.

Weir has done a fantastic job allowing the audience to connect with the characters. I went through the same gambit of emotions the men did as exhaustion turned to elation, then to sorrow, then to despair, and finally relief. The last thirty minutes of the movie are the most powerful and are full of emotion as the harsh environment finally begins to take its toll. The last scene of the film had tears in my eyes as Weir brought all those emotions the characters and audience had experienced together on this epic journey full circle.

The Way Back Movie The Way Back Review

Peter Weir hasn’t directed a film since his epic sea-based movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but you wouldn’t know it by watching The Way Back. While the 133-minute run time feels a tad long and the film seems to drag for a bit around the halfway mark, Weir has still managed to craft a story that is fantastic, tragic, interesting, moving, inspirational and heart-warming – all at once.

If you want to watch a film filled with action, comedy or romance, then this is not the film for you. But if a compelling story filled with characters just trying to survive extraordinary circumstances sounds interesting, then you should definitely watch The Way Back.

Check out the trailer for The Way Back:

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. This has to be watched for the cast alone. o.O

    • hm nice movie

      • thats a very nice movie

        • thats a good comment section

          • thats a very nice comment section

    • can you talk me the name in rael life

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with this review. I had to pick up my daughter-in-law at the theater and I thought Company Men was playing but it hadn’t come out yet. I saw the Way Back on the list and decided to see it; I wondered, though, if I was going to be bored like I was in The King’s Speech (although I was amazed at the final speech). Like Paul said, this isn’t an action nor comedy movie but it does show what men will do to survive. Ed Harris is always great and Colin Farrell is rather hit or miss but I think he hit one this time. The extremes these men (and girl) went through was truly amazing. And although I didn’t cry, those final moments were heart-warming.

  3. * no spoiler *
    One of the best scenes is a montage of what the Siberian prisoners do in their spare time. This, too, attests to the human spirit: Creativity. It’s not only those who escape who are free. Those inside are not just moping the hours away.

    * spoilers *
    What’s this about “the locals” and a bounty on the heads of prisoners? Was it a bogeyman?

    I busted some tears at the final reception in India. I admit, I have a very skewed concept of the Indian people. I think the lilt in their voices holds a connotation of disconnected naivette similar to how an American southern drawl can evoke a certain impression. So to see context of how that cheerful demeanor worked in that scene–powerful.

  4. Like him or not, Colin Farrell seems to intersperse major films with “indie” movies, and I think that’s commendable. When I saw Phone Booth, where carried 95% of the story, I became an instant fan. For a while I scrambled to rent every movie he’d made.

    My favorite is the obscure Tigerland. It’s another ensemble movie, where each actor gets quality time, but Farrell is the unpredictable lead. I consider Tigerland’s characters as distinct and memorable. I never quite got a handle on each of the characters in The Way Back.

    • Try reading the book the movie was based on. During the filming the actors lived in the barracks for the 28 days of shooting. You can still get the dvd from Amazon the behind the scenes footage is worth the price alone! Small scorpians were dropping from the trees in the last scene in the “Tigerland” camp and seemed to particually favor camera-men!

  5. I’m very grateful that a noteworthy director and cast was chosen for this film. I hope the indomitable spirit and unbelievable fortitude demonstrated by the story’s survivors finds deserved appreciation in theaters. I was fortunate to have had a brief correspondence with the author of the book before he passed. The book is titled, “The Long Walk” and I highly recommend it.

  6. I was very inspired! Great movie with some great acting!

  7. Hey guys, don you know what Irena´s Polish name was? I think is Zilinska but I´m not sure…