The Way Back is inspired by the story of a 1940 escape from a Siberian prison; three men slipped out of the gulag and walked out of Siberia, across Mongolia, across China’s Gobi Desert, through Tibet and over the Himalayas to freedom in India – a trek of 4000 miles. This is not a spoiler, because, at the very beginning of the movie, we are told that three men make it from the gulags to India. The remaining dramatic tension is in finding out which three of the seven who start the journey will finish it.
Of course, director Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, Master and Commander) knows how to make a movie, and it is beautifully shot on locations chosen to illustrate the magnitude of the distances and the challenges. It is well acted, especially by Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell.
It’s a tremendous survival tale that results in a good, but not great movie. It comes down to this: eleven months of trudging through dangerous, unfamiliar territory while suffering from starvation and exposure is really impressive, but not that engaging.