Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Saturday, June 22, 2024 — Houston, TX

The Way Back: fine acting breathtaking scenery

347bc3940420cac7bd05831b0bb15191

 

By Anthony Lauriello     1/27/11 6:00pm

Films glorify many things, but walking is not one of them. We prefer our films at faster speeds then that of the pedestrian. Peter Weir's new film, The Way Back, based on the book The Long Walk, is exactly that: an odyssey through some of the most desolate, inhospitable and beautiful places on Earth. The film concerns a group of inmates in a Siberian gulag in 1941, who escape and trek southward through the mountains of Siberia, the steppe of Mongolia, the Gobi Desert of China and the Himalayas of Nepal to their freedom in India. The film begins with the Polish Janusz (Jim Sturgess, 21) in an interrogation chamber listening to his wife recite an obviously forced confession that dooms him to 20 years in a brutal work camp. Upon his arrival at the gulag, the warden recites the "nature is your jailer" speech, a standard in all escape movies ranging from The Bridge on the River Kwai to Star Trek VI.

As Janusz hears the Soviet official talk about the desolate land, he looks into the foreboding and snowy forest, not with fear but with hope. It is a haunting and beautiful take on a cinema standard and stands as one of the movie's strong points. Janusz soon meets other prisoners with his conviction, Tomasz the artist (Alexandru Potocean, Silent Wedding), Zoran the accountant (Dragos Bucur, Summer Holiday), Kazik the blind man (Sebastian Urzendowsky, The Counterfeiters), the cruel criminal Valka (Colin Farrell, In Bruges) and an enigmatic American known only as Mr. Smith (Ed Harris, A History of Violence).

After trading for limited food and supplies, the motley band escapes into the blizzard. The rest of the movie could be simply a quest for survival, but when runaway Irena (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) begins to ask questions, the group begins to develop close relationships.



The actors do a superb job looking absolutely miserable. The story requires a lot of shivering and dehydration, and the actors rise to the challenge of communicating their desires when conditions rob them of articulation. Sturgess convincingly shows Janusz's drive for freedom, and Ronan somehow maintains an enigmatic beauty while her skin becomes blistered and swollen with exposure.

The greatest performance, though, goes to Harris' depiction of Mr. Smith. He never truly loses his gruff and abrasive "cowboy" demeanor, but we can definitely feel his paternal affection ?toward Irena.

The true stars of the film, though, are the amazing vistas and landscapes. While the movie was not actually filmed in every location, you would never know it. It is not surprising that the film was partially a National Geographic production, as watching it feels like gawking at full-color spreads of exotic places, and Weir gives us ample time to soak it in. Burkhard von Dallwitz's symphonic score adds to this sense of transcendentalism.

The directing does take a turn for the worse near the end of the film, with an awkward and ill-fitting montage of common knowledge Cold War history.

Despite the sour taste that this poorly executed scene leaves in the mouth, the film still survives as an epic tale of human spirit. The film moves at a slow walking pace, so those looking for an action-packed chase through the wilderness will leave disappointed. The movie shows that man can triumph not only over the trials of nature but also the tyranny of other men.



More from The Rice Thresher

NEWS 6/5/24 7:37pm
NOD permanently canceled, Rice strips away-decades old campus tradition

After 50 years of decadence, Wiess College’s infamous underwear party is no more.  Born in the early 1970s after a group of Wiess students poured all their alcohol into a bathtub — creating a brew “so potent it removed the varnish” — Night of Decadence has spent years in the national eye. Allegedly recognized as one of Playboy’s top college parties in the nation, NOD has also been subject to mounting scrutiny over alcohol use and an “explicitly dangerous and sexual atmosphere.” Rice has now permanently canceled the public, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman and Wiess magister Flavio Cunha announced in a message to campus June 5.

NEWS 5/24/24 11:48am
Rice Mutual Aid partners with student organizations to fundraise for Gaza

Rice Mutual Aid launched a fundraising campaign for Gaza on May 13 in partnership with 15 other student organizations at Rice, including Rice Students for Justice in Palestine, Rice Pride, the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice and the Rice Muslim Student Association. RMA will direct donations towards American Near East Refugee Aid, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian aid and emergency relief in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. A day after its launch, the campaign raised over $2,000 according to RMA’s Instagram.


Comments

Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.