Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Way Back

To understand how these men got to be in a hard-labour POW camp in Siberia, I guess we need to understand a bit of history about Nazi Germany and Stalin, but if we want to skip that for later research, we can say that a bunch of men, Polish, Latvian, Yugoslavian, American and Russian, are unfairly accused of crimes against the regime and shipped off there.

Food is scarce and in-fighting and informal hierarchy amongst prisoners rules the camp, while the captors let them get on with it. The camp is amongst thousands of miles of hostile Siberian terrain, so it seems that the guards were not too fussed about security, as there's nowhere to go. And on top of that, local people were paid a bounty if they caught an escapee. But this didn't stop them.

The main player, Jim Sturgess (21, Cloud Atlas), portrays Janusz, a Polish man who has, through his outdoor life, acquainted himself with living rough and making good from the land and scarce resources. He leads and drives forward an escape party made up of various people, at the outset, including Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind, Pollock, The Rock, Apollo 13) and Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Total Recall, Phone Booth). And so the story plays out with the group facing survival challenge after survival challenge as they try to make their way, on foot, south to India via Mongolia and Tibet.

Challenged by the heat of the Gobi desert, no water, sandstorms, snow of Siberia, Himalayan mountains and cold, the journey ended up being 4000 miles long. As they go forward, back-stories of people's lives come out and details of the often harrowing treatment various family members have suffered at the hands of the aggressors of the day.

It's a story of survival and terrible hardship of man against the elements played superbly well by everyone concerned. The photography and scenery of course is fabulous throughout. There are times when there doesn't seem to be a lot happening, but I think that's a purposeful directorial ploy by Peter Weir (Master and Commander, Dead Poet's Society, Picnic at Hanging Rock) to generate just a small audience appreciation of this long and boring plight facing the people. This didn't make the viewing anything less than gripping.

It's apparently a true story based on a book 'The Long Walk' by Slavomir Rawicz, a young Polish cavalry officer as depicted in the lead role. It is said that the film is quite true to the book, though others have questioned the accuracy. This shouldn't deter people from watching it, though, as pin-point accurate or not, it's gripping drama. As I review, it's available via a Netflix subscription in the UK, but no doubt elsewhere too. It's a great film and absolutely worth watching. Highly recommended.

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