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"The Way Back" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Inspired by true events, The Way Back starts out in a Siberian gulag in 1941.  The inmates are mostly political prisoners and criminals.  Polish captive Janusz (Sturgess) decides to attempt escape and he manages to get a group of others to help.  Soon he, American Mr. Smith (Harris), criminal Valka (Farrell) and a few others are outside the wire and running for their lives through a ferocious blizzard.  Their plan is to make the Mongolian border to escape Communist rule; a journey of at least 1000 kilometers.  Along the way, a Polish refugee, Irena (Ronan) joins them on their quest for freedom.  When they reach the border, they discover this country too has joined the Communists.  Their only option is to keep pushing south to India.  Their greatest obstacle lies ahead as they cross the Gobi Desert.  Eventually they make it to Tibet where Smith decides to leave the group and return to the US through China.  Janusz and the rest finally reach India and in a poignant scene at the end, he is reunited with his wife after the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989.

Specifications

  • Image Entertainment
  • 2010, Color, PG-13, 2 Hr 13 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell
  • Directed by Peter Weir
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I found this film very enjoyable.  The depiction of suffering and hardship while intense is not over-the-top.  I felt every emotion as the group struggled to meet a seemingly impossible challenge – to survive a trek of over 4000 miles with little more than the clothes on their backs.  The Way Back was nominated for an Oscar for Best Makeup and the scenes in the desert demonstrate why.  The actors’ sun-baked faces looked amazingly real as they trekked for weeks from one water source to another.  The determination of these people to survive as free men is inspiring to watch.  The box claims “based on true events” so I did a bit of research.  The film is based on a memoir written by Slavomir Rawicz called The Long Walk.  The investigation by director Peter Weir suggests that three men did indeed walk from a Siberian gulag to India in 1941 but that Rawicz was not one of them.  Whatever the truth is, it’s a fascinating and entertaining story; highly recommended.

Technical

The image is quite good and seems to sharpen a bit as the film progresses.  Early scenes showed a bit of softness.  There is also occasional and unnecessary edge enhancement used.  Color is natural and perfectly saturated.  A cool palette is used during all the snow scenes to great effect.  The picture never looks flat.  Contrast is excellent with some of the best night scenes I’ve ever witnessed.  During the trek through the desert, the night sky is full of bright stars and the actors are perfectly lit as they pop out from the background; good stuff.

Audio is reference quality.  Not only is there a high level of detail and clarity, the surround speakers are used perfectly to create a large sound envelope.  I really enjoyed the 3D sound environment and really felt like I was out in the wilderness.  Ambient effects added to what I would consider some of the best sound design I’ve ever experienced.  The lush orchestral score by Burkhard Dallwitz provided a great backdrop to the many scenes without dialog, when the men were simply trekking through amazingly beautiful landscapes.  Overall production design was top-notch both visually and aurally.

Extras

Bonus features are slim with only a 30-minute documentary and a theatrical trailer included.