x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The Way Back

This striking film about a group of prisoners who escape a Russian Gulag resonates deeply.


The Way Back Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell

The Way Back is a striking film about a group of prisoners who escape from a Russian Gulag in 1941 and embark on a journey of harrowing and epic proportions. In order to reach the safety of British-ruled India, some 4,000 miles away, they must first negotiate their way across Siberia, Mongolia and China - an ordeal which, as the opening credits tell us, not all of them will survive.

This is an engaging, ambitious, visually stunning tale of survival and the pursuit of freedom. The men who embark on this escape attempt make up an odd bunch: among them is Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a young Pole accused of being a spy by the Soviets; a mysterious American, who prefers to be known only as Mr Smith (Ed Harris) and a criminal by the name of Valka (Colin Farrell), who chances his way on to the expedition.

It is nature, not Stalin, that is the men's most relentless adversary: silent shots of icy Siberian landscapes are hauntingly beautiful but foreboding; the brutal heat of the desert wreaks havoc on morale; mosquitoes ravage their bodies and extreme dehydration leaves them no other choice but to drink dirty water.

The film is loosely based on the controversial book The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, written by Slavomir Rawicz, which describes his escape from a Siberian war camp, along with six other prisoners. I say controversial because the validity of the journey and the identities of those who were involved have been called into question. Viewing this as a piece of drama, I'm not sure that really matters, though: from the gruelling trek, to the depths of their desperation, it feels very real and resonates deeply.