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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Way Back

Directed by: Peter Weir

Produced by: Peter Weir
Joni Levin
Duncan Henderson
Nigel Sinclair
Scott Rudin

Screenplay by: Peter Weir
Keith Clarke

Based on: The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz

Starring: Jim Sturgess
Colin Farrell
Ed Harris
Saoirse Ronan
Mark Strong
Dragos Bucur
Gustaf Skarsgard

Music by: Burkhard Dallwitz

Cinematography by: Russell Boyd

Editing by: Lee Smith

Studio(s): National Geographic Films
Spitfire Pictures
Imagenation Abu Dhabi
Film Fund Luxemborg

Distributed by: Newmarket Films
Exclusive Film Distribution
Meteor Pictures

Release date(s): September 3, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)
December 26, 2010 (United Kingdom)
December 29, 2010 (United States)

Running time: 133 minutes

Language(s): English
Russian
Polish

Budget: $30 million

Box office revenue: $20, 348, 249


And the ball is still rolling, gathering matter like a katamari, enveloping mountains and planets until it is big enough to become a new star in our solar system... excuse me, did I lose my focus? Anyway, work continues as usual. Unfortunately, thanks to the brilliantly inconsistent public transport service that is Translink, I missed today's screening for Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. However, to compensate, I caught a screening of The Iron Lady, and yesterday (through entirely legal means, thank you SOPA!) I managed to see a version of Sucker Punch. So, with roughly eight days left to go, some serious cramming is in order. For 2012, I will have emerged out of my shell to become a fully-fledged critic with a relatively decent timetable, but in the meantime, you'll have to suffice with this, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Ok, so today's film is The Way Back. Now, before you chastise me for reviewing a 2010 film (admittedly, I did make a blunder with [●REC]²), my backwards province of Northern Ireland only started showing this film in January of 2011, and given the fact it wasn't nominated at any major awards season events, it qualifies under my rules of eligibility. The Way Back is the new film by Peter Weir, who since the release of 1998's brilliant The Truman Show, has only made one other film in 2003's Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World. His latest release is in the similar vein to the 2003 film: it follows Janusz Wieszczek (Jim Sturgess), a young Polish prisoner-of-war, who escapes imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag, and leads a group of individuals on four-thousand mile walk to freedom to India. Don't worry, I haven't spoiled the film for you, it tells you this at the start in the film's introduction.

So, to start with the good, I must once again (am I ever done?) compliment Jim Sturgess in his lead role (here comes a quote, 'Jim Sturgess Online!'). As a man who is still a young actor by the film industry's standards, it is admirable that Sturgess can legitimately carry the film on his shoulders. His character is the typically dull leader, for you always find the meatier roles with more quirks are in the supporting roles, particularly the 'Kikuchiyo' stock-role that appears in these films. However, Sturgess gives Janusz a genuine sense of credibility and a three-dimensional humanity about him. Also good are Ed Harris, who himself plays a stock role, but gives the part a credibility not unlike the same qualities that Sturgess brings to the table. Colin Farrell is also remarkably convincing as Valka, the 'Kikuchiyo' role in the film. Playing a Russian covered in tattoos, Farrell is a far more versatile actor than most people give credit, and you do buy him in this part. Also, technically the film is very well made. Lee Smith, one of the best working editors, applies his suitably fine craft to the film, and contributes a lot to the development of the atmosphere of sheer exhaustion and effort that the characters are having to make. Furthermore, in conjunction with Russell Boyd's strong cinematography, it's obvious Weir and co. have spent a good bit of time researching the movie, as there are some fantastic locations here. As such, we are able to believe the idea that we are witnessing these characters go on a journey. Finally, Peter Weir is nothing if not a director who thoroughly cares for every project he works on. This is a film where you can feel the passion of those involved, and this is only a good thing for The Way Back.

However, passion or passion, a movie has got to have some substance, and while being a good, admirable film, it isn't entirely up to snuff. The central element that causes issues is the script, for with the script arise a number of problems with the film. For starters, the characters, while being well-acted, are more or less stock parts. While some actors are able to get away with it, others such as the normally reliable Mark Strong aren't, because the characters are treated as tools in an overall structure that comes across as designed merely so Weir can tell this story. Also, there is a serious tonal inconsistency. Now, I have no problem with the audience being given room to breath, but it is infuriating to bounce so freely between Darwinian 'horrors of war,' to highly indulgent tones consisting of "isn't this all very brave? Look he's crossing a river, how brave!" Furthermore, the tone of bravery, courage, yadda, yadda, is hammered in by Burkhard Dallwitz' score, which is far too overt. If anything, what this film needs is a bit less score and more diegetic sound of the wind blowing or something of the sort. It gave the film an air of contrivance, and honestly, with the whole recurring 'bravery' themes (brought to you courtesy of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra), I was half expecting an explosion into the great Jerry Goldsmith's Rambo theme: we know these people are brave and courageous, you don't need to keep telling us!

So, with regards to The Way Back, if with a hint of trepidation, as some of it's problems are very notable, this still remains a good film. There are some strong performances, particularly from Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell. Also, technically it is a sound piece of work, with Lee Smith and Russell Boyd each applying their respective crafts in the editorial and photographic departments. Furthermore, with a director like Weir, you're guaranteed at least a movie by a director who truly believes in what he is doing. Even if isn't Come And See or Platoon, if you able to get past a flawed script, inappropriate score and the fact that the film is at least twenty minutes too long, you'll enjoy The Way Back.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (but this ball is going to keep on rolling until it's over. The metaphorical 'it,' of course!)

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