Four-time Oscar nominee, Ed Harris (Apollo 13), Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges) star in this epic saga of survival from six-time Oscar-nominee Peter Weir (Witness, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Inspired by an incredible true story, The Way Back begins in 1940 when seven prisoners attempt the impossible: escape from a brutal Siberian gulag. Thus begins a treacherous 4,500-mile trek to freedom across the world’s most merciless landscapes. They have little food and few supplies. They don’t know or trust each other. But together, they must withstand nature at its most extreme. Their humanity is further tested when they meet a teenage runaway who begs to join them on their quest. A compelling testament to the human spirit, this gripping wilderness adventure is “Peter Weir at his hypnotic best” (Telluride Film Festival).

Studio: Image Entertainment
Year: 2011
Release Date: April 22, 2011
Run time: 133 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Disc Spec: 1 BD
Region: 1

I won’t wade into the controversy regarding the facts behind the story of this film. Just how true the story is and to whom it actually occurred won’t be my focus. I’ll write about the filmmaking itself. Peter Weir’s entire career has been focused on this singular theme, man at battle with his environment. From the early day of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to “The Mosquito Coast”, “The Truman Show” and “Master and Commander”… the same theme dominates his expression as a filmmaker. “The Way Back” was the perfect vehicle for him to explore this territory once again. He gets to film everything from wintry landscapes of Siberia, the deserts of Mongolia, to the Himalaya in China and even a little of India.

The cinematography is suitably sumptuous but in no way artificially gorgeous. There is bleakness as well as beauty in the images. The story and characters take second place to the forces of nature. This might be the lethal ingredient to many viewers and their potential engagement with this film. The main character Janusz has a back story and a character arc, but the others are fuzzily sketched. The talents of Ed Harris are mostly wasted but I suppose it’s better to have him more in the background instead of how Harris typically dominates his movies with his shouting and lapses into anger. I thought Colin Farrell was miscast as a Russian criminal who provides a bit of comic mischief but the young Saoirse Ronan makes an impression as the lost young girl.

The main message of this film apart from the man versus nature dynamic is the idea that it’s better to die a free man than live as a prisoner. Imagine having a sentence in one of those Siberian prisons. Making a break for it even with the high chance of death is preferable in my mind to a dull life of drudgery in this far off prison. Better to die in an icy forest or the rain starved desert die than working in a coal mine against your will. I wouldn’t rank “The Way Back” as one of Peter Weir’s best films but it’s a respectable effort nonetheless, more worthy of a cinemagoer’s time and money than a lot of content in theatrical release right now.
Movie Quality: 9.5/10

Print/Audio Quality

The print is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 with a 1:33:1 aspect ratio.I found this print to be rather eye pleasing with vibrant colors. Fleshtones are very natural and accurate, considering that we see a few bare necessities throughout. Black levels are solid throughout. The image was also sharp with excellent details. The image is clean and pristine making this a very nice looking image.
Print Quality: 9/10

The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA lossless 7.1 mix. The audio plays and separates itself into the fronts and rears with a just a little bit of bass in the rhythm, while the fisticuffs and weapons give off all kinds of directionality. Martial arts counterattacks, the whiffing of clothes, and connection of hits provide a good, loud smack across from left to right, right to left and seat belts and grazing knives whiz and whip around with tense authority. There’s a little bit of gunfire that’s doused out by the muffling of suppressors, but they still provide some excellent bass thumps and ricochet from the sides to and around the rears. Dialogue is clear and discernible from the center channel.
Print Quality: 9.5/10

Special Features

  • The Journey of the Journey
  • Theatrical Trailer

Special Features: 9/10

Final Thoughts

The Way Back is a hybrid of The Great Escape (without suspense or shooting) and the lost-in-the-desert film Jerry, less exciting than the former. In fact, the interest of the film rests more in the interpersonal conflicts and bonding of the characters than in their physical hardships or prowess. This is a story driven film and provides excellent video and audio quality.
Overall Rating: 9/10