BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Way Back
Peter Weir's latest film "inspired by real events" and a true inspiration tale...
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Best known for The Truman Show, Master and Commander and Dead Poets Society, writer/director Peter Weir once again delivers an amazing, mind-blowing and all-and-out spectacular film with The Way Back. Set in 1941, this tale of escape, survival and humanity is inspired by the true story of a ragtag group of men who escape from a Siberian gulag and attempt to travel more than 4,000 miles to find freedom. What the seven find instead is freezing nights, no food or water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalaya mountains, and the terrible and unfortunate question each must ask: when do we cut our losses and leave someone behind?
What makes The Way Back so impressive is the story's characters, their development, and the way we as viewers see ourselves in each and every one f them. The group is made up of an accountant, a pastry chef who is also an artist, a priest, a young man with night blindness and three main characters: the group leader Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Pole who knows how to live in the wild; Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), a cynical American whose morals keep the group together; and Valka (Colin Farrell), a Russian thug who's handy with a blade.
The story balances between these three men and their survival as we watch each digress and develop into both the best and worst humanity has to offer. Likewise, as a group, the seven men face everything from freezing nights with no food to an attack by a hungry wolf pack as desperate as they are for a meal. And it is through these trials and tribulations we better understand not only the men's will to survive, but our hope that they do.
Through the film's many situations we as an audience watch the characters and story develop, exploring a truly incredible adventure the likes of which none of us can ever imagine. And, when many of the seven meet their final resting place along the path to freedom, it's with teary eyes and a sad heart the other members of the group - and we, the viewer - wish them farewell and mourn their passing.
While The Way Back is a story of heartbreak and struggle, it is also a story of unrelenting survival and success. And what, you might ask, is considered success when one has overcome the worst nature has to offer? For the men who escaped from a Siberian gulag in the dead of winter in 1941 and survived the 4,000 mile trek over some of the world's most treacherous terrain, success is nothing more than simply living to tell the tale.
The Way Back features a beautiful 1080p video transfer that's gorgeous to watch. The various vistas and landscapes truly set the film and help establish nature and the elements as an unforeseen character that - like the other characters in the film - develops over time and is just as deadly as any Russian with a knife or gun. The morbid look of the freezing, wintery landscape are in vast contrast to the sweltering, dry deserts seen later in the film and both are captured perfectly to film. Likewise, the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track features plenty to enjoy. Everything from the whipping wind blowing through the prison camp, rock explosions in the deepest mines, buzzing mosquitoes, and torrential rainfall bring the film to life acoustically, providing an immersive and intense experience.
As for special features, the blu-ray disc includes only 2: the film's trailer and a 30+ minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette which is well worth watching for those who enjoy the film. Writer/director Weir and his cast give plenty of background info on the film's inspiration, the individual characters, and the film's creation. Likewise, there is plenty of on-location shooting which provides viewers with an additional look at the film's locales.
An eye-opening, heart-breaking, celebration of the human spirit, The Way Back is a rare treat in cinema. Able to at once make you cry and cheer, The Way Back truly finds its soul in the film's varied characters and their development. Though they may not be entirely good or entirely evil, they are entirely human and entire too much like us. For it is through this incredible and painful experience these men - and we - better understand what it means to be human, to love, to hate, and to survive.
The Way Back is rate PG-13 for violent content, depiction of physical hardships, a nude image and brief strong language and is available on blu-ray and DVD now wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley