Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell
Runtime: 133 mins
Poor Peter Weir. His is a curse hardly new to stellar filmmakers – after a string of critical successes (including Witness, Dead Poets Society and The Truman Show), there’s now a level of expectation applied to his films that, in comparison to other directors, is extraordinarily high. As a result, The Way Back is a fairly wonderful (if flawed) film; one that left most reviewers glowing, but determined to sound disappointed.
With that in mind, I’d like to get all the criticisms out of the way upfront. Yes, this is a film that tends to neglect emotional integrity in favour of epic scale. Yes, Colin Farrell’s Russian accent (in fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say every accent Colin Farrell uses) is dubious. Yes, the way they suddenly abandon using Russian after half an hour is extremely suspect, and yes, the final montage of the-next-sixty-or-so-years is a bit hackneyed and imperfect. And finally, yes – considering recent analyses, this breathtaking story about a group of men and a little girl who travelled 4,500 miles from Siberia to India might well be, uh, made-up. I think that’s about it.
Besides that, this is a brilliant film – one where the stunning backdrops (and there’s a fair few – this is one of those films that looks expensive without making it bleeding obvious) become an extra character. It’s one where the pacing is perfect over a 133-minute runtime (something that, for example, someone as brilliant as David Fincher didn’t exactly manage with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Every performance is stellar – despite the criticisms of the accent, the fact that Farrell’s character serves as comic relief and disappears halfway through the film is a huge boost – and while one might not come away weeping, one certainly gets a sense of awe from the whole spectacle of it all.
And that’s the word to describe the reaction to this film: awe. It’s hardly surprising – one of the primary financiers was National Geographic, and it’s a film shot primarily on location over at least four countries – but Peter Weir’s great achievement in this film is making you feel like you’re there, in the moment, with the characters. True – it’s still emotionally distancing, but you get the impression that that’s not the point. On the few occasions where there needs to be some subtle catharsis, Weir delivers. It’s moments like those where we’re reminded that he hasn’t lost his touch: he’s just doing something different.