Friday, March 18, 2011

The Way Back

Which Way From Here?

Once in a while a film comes along to reinforce the point of Man's propensity to survive against near impossible odds, where if we put our minds to something it's usually mind over matter to get to where we want to despite that of naysayers. It's also a tale of conflict between being trapped and free, where the flight to freedom comes with insurmountable risks, that it may make better sense to survive under captivity than to die free men. If given a choice, which option will you opt for?

The opening scene is chilling, where a Soviet interrogator gains the upper hand in his session with Pole Janusz (Jim Sturgess), accused of being anti-Communist, speaking bad about then leader of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin, and being a spy. Worse, intelligence and accusations gathered come directly from the confessions of one's wife, whether coerced or under threat and duress, and becomes the death knell of a sentence being sent to Siberia for decades of hard labour. And as a reminder, the camp commandant advises that it is Mother Nature who will prevent any inmate from escaping.

This will deter all except for the most determined, and assembling a rag tag crew of men desperate and hopeful enough to get out of their predicament, many there because of being in similar boats, each with varied skills to count on from somebody lighting up the mood, to gatherers and hunters, to cooks and painters, and so on, who also add as the unceremonious fodder in biting the dust when the time comes. Amongst the crew are Ed Harris as the American prisoner Mr Smith who got jailed by the Russians, and Colin Farell's Russian Valka, a gangster who's in jail to maintain "law and order" and who is tired of being stuck in this sole mission in life. Saoirse Ronan shows up midway through the film to stir up team dynamics as being the only female in the group, and outside of the age demographics being the youngest of the lot.

It's been a long time - some 7 years - since Peter Weir last helmed a film, and in some ways this celebration of the triumph of man's spirit is quite in line with his The Truman Show starring Ed Harris too, where a man journeys beyond his comfort zone to seek true freedom from the clutches of an engineered life brought about by a television producer. Here he puts you right into the thick of the action, as if you're constantly alongside the group of escapees, and having to feel every predicament, and highs and lows in thier quest for freedom, feeling every bit of elation as they overcome small obstacles, and feel their despair when the whole world seem to conspire against their escape.

From the icy cold winds and snow storms in Siberia to the ultra dry Mongolian desert, the special effects and makeup departments deserve every bit of respect for the realistic recreation of the external human condition under such extreme weather circumstances. Cinematography is also top notch be it to enable the freezing cold temperatures to be felt, or the heat wave across sandy landscapes, and the rich greenery of the mountains in India. You'd come to expect plenty of food rationing, sourcing, hunting, and perhaps it is this outdoor survival instinct that makes the film a little more interesting, yet also sticking to expectations without surpassing it.

And the best of Man get brought out, rather than to focus of negatives that would usually plague escape films like these. Sure a bunch of relative strangers put together have their differences, but I believe like them, everyone understands the power of sticking together, pulling resources and contributiing to their strengths, and in doing so increases the odds of survival. It's like Survivor the reality show, only that everyone belongs to the same team in the building of shelters and food contribution. A reminder that unity comes strength, with a poignant finale brought about by a haunting score. Definitely recommended!

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