Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie with Abe: The Way Back

The Way Back
Directed by Peter Weir
Released January 22, 2011

Some films can be easily classified as epics, where a grand, sweeping cinematography-filled adventure, battle, or experience fills a large chunk of the plot. They are often extensive in runtime and prone to indulgence in celebrating their own magnitude. Some films, such as “Gladiator” or “The Lord of the Rings” (at least the first two films), are marvelously effective staples of the genre. Others, such as Peter Weir’s new film “The Way Back,” try so desperately hard to feel like epics that they ultimately just don’t deliver as either compelling or rewarding, taking their audiences on an overlong and tiresome journey.

The story of three men who escaped from a Siberian gulag and walked several thousand miles to India is without a doubt fascinating. Some have raised questions about its truthfulness as a real-life event, but that need not be part of the analysis or breakdown of the film. What’s more pertinent is that it’s a magnificently intriguing story, yet the execution of the film doesn’t do it justice at all. It’s the kind of cinematic realization that leaves viewers with a desire to learn more about how this incredible journey occurred, hardly being fulfilled by the events onscreen as some sort of explanation.

Its participants undertook a long, unbearable, impossible trek to get to freedom. The film represents a similarly strenuous and seemingly endless trip, consistently failing to seize upon the more interesting portions of a given scene or the journey as a whole. Director Peter Weir has made many terrific films – “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” “The Truman Show,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Witness” are among the more notable – and this is not one of them. There’s no trace of hidden brilliance here; instead it’s a movie that presumes itself to be of grand importance, and accordingly assigns its characters significant roles in its greater storytelling scheme. Ed Harris is the fatherly veteran, Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones”) the wandering orphan who instantly commands trust from all of the men, Colin Farrell the crazy-eyed jackal, and Jim Sturgess the stoic, always hopeful leader. With the exception of the solid and dependable Sturgess, none of these otherwise great actors delivers a strong performance, though Mark Strong (“Body of Lies,” “Rocknolla”) impresses in his limited role. It’s simply not worth traveling the way back with this group, and it’s a shame because with such a terrific premise and the talent involved, the dialogue should not have been this bad and the film should not have been this dull.


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