Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Way Back

Peter Weir, 2010 (8.2*)
This incredible story begins with "In 1945, three men came out of the wilderness after a 4,000 mile walk from Siberia - this film is dedicated to the memory of these men."

Based on a memoir by Slavomir Rawicz called "The Long Walk", which depicted his escape from a Siberian gulag and subsequent 4000-mile walk to freedom in India. This popular adventure became a bestseller, selling over 500,000 copies. Credited with inspiring explorers, one survival expert recreated the same hike himself and served as a technical advisor on this film. However, the BBC unearthed records in 2006 (including some written by Rawicz himself) that showed he had been released by the USSR in 1942, while another former Polish soldier, Witold Glinski, claimed in 2009 that the book was really an account of his own escape. ("I walked 4000 miles!" - "No, I did!")

Whatever the facts, the film depicts a tribute to the survival instinct of man, a harrowing wilderness adventure trek across Siberia, Lake Baikal, Mongolia, Tibet, and finally emerging in the Indian Himilayas.

The story follows seven men who escape from a Siberian gulag consisting of foreign workers who were jailed by Stalin while working in Russia, and the typical assortment of lifetime criminals, led by Colin Farrell, who carries a knife, and a tattoo of Lenin and Stalin on his chest. He escapes with an international group led by American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), Pole Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Swede, Russian, and a Hungarian (or was it Romanian?) They are followed by a young Polish teen, who eventually joins the group, played by Saorise Ronan (who celebrated her 16th birthday on the set). Of her talents, Weir said "She was born with a particular acting talent that can't be learned".

The film perhaps loses it's emotional intensity along the way and becomes a slow walk to inevitability, so in that regard it's not as artistic as most of Weir's better efforts, such as Fearless, Witness, and Picnic at Hanging Rock. In spite of that, it's an adventure that needs to be told, and if true, one of the most amazing feats in human history. Similar stories have been documented as many prisoners spend years returning home after wars, many walking as far at 8-10,000 miles, so this story is not that unbelievable.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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