The Way Back (2010)

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Released 27-Jul-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Featurette-Making Of-The Journey of the Journey (30.58)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 127:00 (Case: 133)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Peter Weir

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Dragos Bucur
Colin Farrell
Ed Harris
Alexandru Potocean
Saoirse Ronan
Gustaf Skarsgård
Mark Strong
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Burkhard von Dallwitz

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Descriptive Audio Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     It's been a long time between cinematic drinks for fans of iconic Australian filmmaker Peter Weir. The last time Weir hit the big screen was in 2003 with the rollicking adventure tale Master and Commander, featuring a powerful performance from Russell Crowe. His latest film, The Way Back, is a gruelling endurance drama set against some awfully inhospitable environments. It is not classic Weir, and has some fundamental flaws, and yet there is enough in there to keep the audience entertained.

     In a snowbound Gulag in the depths of Siberia a rag-tag bunch of prisoners are planning their escape. The odds aren't good. As the camp commander tells them on entry - Siberia is their prison not the barbed wire fences. Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is a Polish POW imprisoned due to his wife’s confession, extracted under torture. He meets an actor named Khabarov (Mark Strong) who acts as a guide to the many dangers in the Gulag, not the least of which is a hardened Russian criminal, Valka (Colin Farrell). Valka doesn't mind prison life but a debt to the even heavier crims will see him lose key body parts unless he can make a break for it. Finally, there is the enigmatic Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), an American engineer who came to Russia after the Depression.

     When they do break out of prison, well most of them, they are joined by a small group of others - an artist, a cook, a priest (played by the brother of True Blood's Eric, another talented Skarsgard!) and an accountant. Breaking out is the easy part. Once they are out in the wilds of Siberia the group are forced to survive by any means possible. Actually, almost any means. I was vaguely concerned that this film might mimic the recent Australian movie Van Diemans Land with convicts chowing down on each other at the first hint of starvation. Fortunately, the leg bones stayed attached to the thigh bones!

     Their plan is simple. Walk until it is safe, which at the outset seems to be Mongolia. Unfortunately, when they get to the border a gate warns that Mother Russia has extended her influence to there too and the group must walk on, and on, and on! As the group travel south towards perceived freedom they are beset with all manner of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles from the endless snowdrifts, to the mosquitoes of Lake Baikal and the endless desert of Mongolia. Along the way they pick up a straggler, a young Polish girl with an uncertain past played by "it" girl Saoirse Ronan. As the journey progresses and the journey takes its toll, the remainders bond in the last ditch effort to survive.

     There is much to like in The Way Back and much that just misses the mark. On the negative side, the whole survivalist premise of the film makes it more of a dour endurance test for the audience and actors alike rather than a fully realised drama. Seeing a bunch of actors huddled in the snow or trudging across endless sands may make us value our comfortable homes but it doesn't build characterisation and identification with the actors. The title of the film has a couple of meanings, for Smith it is the way back into acceptance of himself and for Janusz it is the journey back to his wife, to tell her he forgives her for ratting him out. Both journeys are not really explored making this a film really about how to survive in the harshest of conditions. On the plus side it is nice to see an International cast brought together with some fine acting performances. Ronan is a young Meryl Streep, able to put on any accent on the map. I last saw Sturgess in the British film Heartless and he puts in a fine performance here, complete with a strong Polish accent. Of course, Ed Harris is a class act and his Smith gives the grizzled American some gravitas. Colin Farrell does a nice job of the dangerous Valka.

     Another plus is the wonderful cinematography of Oscar winner Russel Boyd which gives a grand sweep to the whole affair.

    The Way Back is said to have been based on a book. The book itself, a major hit when published in the 50's, has now largely been debunked, although there is evidence of similar great walks to freedom. There is a lot to experience here and a lot to endure - as a fan of Peter Weir I just wish there was a little more meat on the bones of the film than on its starving cast.

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Transfer Quality


     The Way Back was shot on 35mm film in some really harsh locations. The film was shown at cinemas at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and that ration has been preserved for the DVD release. It is 16x9 enhanced.

     As said above the film has been lovingly shot by Russell Boyd. The snow, desert and mountains make for a spectacular looking film. The colours are strong and stable although they tend to reflect a simple palette. The flesh tones from the bluish freezing skin to the red chapped desert whipped flesh are accurate. There are no technical defects to the transfer. The only pity - imagining what it would have looked like in Blu-ray!

     There are subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired. I watched a fair portion of the film with the subtitles on as I found the combination of thick accents and howling winds in the early part of the film made it difficult to decipher what was being said. The subtitles are accurate right down to the "birds chirp in the distance" and "stirring music"!

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The prime audio track for The Way Back is English Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448Kb/s.

     This is a pretty impressive surround track. The wind howls, the wolves howl, the sandstorms howl - everything howls, in great surround sound encompassing the viewer. The sub-woofer is meaningfully engaged from time to time. The dialogue is less successful for two reasons - both unassociated with the quality of the transfer. Firstly, there is often a good deal of ambient noise in the Siberia scenes which can muffle the dialogue. Secondly, the cast either have strong accents or put them on. As said, these are issues with the film and not really of the transfer.

     There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track and a descriptive audio track both running at 224Kb/s.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


The Journey of the Journey

     This featurette has all the hallmarks of an EPK. Actors in costume talking about how great the film is likely to be. And yet over the course of 30 minutes it manages to transcend the origins to become an interesting feature. Part of this may be to do with the locations, seeing a bunch of actors stuck in a freezing forest or in a scorching desert. Interesting too the moment when they were setting up for a sandstorm scene only to have a real sandstorm come in sending them packing! Not only the actors and director but also the production crew get some input. The interviews with Ed Harris appear to have been done later and features slightly dodgy sound. Worth a watch.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This DVD has similar features in Region 1. Buy local.


     The Way Back depicts a gruelling journey and at times the film is a bit of a hard slog. Good performances and interesting locales help drive the story.

     The DVD looks and sounds impressive. The Making of featurette is a little like the film - good and bad in parts.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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