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Way Back, The (Blu-ray Review)

18 Mar, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Prebook 3/22/11; Street 4/19/11
Box Office $2.7 million
$27.97 DVD, $29.97 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violent content, depiction of physical hardships, a nude image and brief strong language.
Stars Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell.

It’s 1939. Hitler has invaded Poland from Germany, and Stalin’s troops encroach from the east. Caught in the middle are myriad political prisoners and common criminals sent to Siberian Gulags to rot or die.

Supposedly based on actual events, The Way Back showcases the daily injustices that drive falsely accused Janusz (Jim Sturgess, in a switch from singing Beatles tunes in Across the Universe) to seek freedom — 4,000 miles across the Himalayan Mountains and barren Mongolian Gobi Desert — in India.

So he assembles a crew of collaborators, which include American Mr. Smith (always superb Ed Harris) and Russian thug Valka (few do ruffians better than Colin Farrell), among others. That the escapees don’t freeze to death their first night on the lam in a blizzard is mere precursor to their herculean ordeals (sand storms, snakes, mosquitoes, dehydration and death) captured in majestic panorama by director Peter Weir in his first movie since 2003 (Master and Commander).

Along the way, the group crosses paths with a young Polish refugee (Saoirse Ronan from Atonement and The Lovely Bones), whose innocence belies a fierce determination to not become dead weight. Ronan’s frailty induces members in the group to contribute to what little human storyline exists.

Ultimately, the appeal of The Way Back is as a visual journey of the human spirit that is best seen, if possible, on Blu-ray Disc. Indeed, the film received a Best Makeup nomination at the recent Academy Awards.

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