After dismembering Tron Legacy and before continuing to work off my list of planned movie reviews it’s time again time to wander into the Obscure Movie Territory. This time it’s The Way Back, a survival movie directed by Peter Weir (Truman Show).
The Way Back tells the story of several Siberian Gulag prisoners who can escape the camp and flee south to reach India. Since there’s nothing out there many hardships await them and of course not all of them reach their goal.
While in theory the setup sounds extremely suspenseful, the actual results feels just bland that lacks any drama, suspense or action intensity. The Way Back wants to be more than a mere survival movie; it wants to give its genre a new spin by being realistic. But by doing that it throws everything out of the window that makes a movie a good movie.
The Way Back lacks any form of conflict. There’s no tension at all which is kinda surprising since one guy is a murderer who still loves Stalin like a hero. Do you think this would cause some high tension between him and the escapees that were imprisoned by Stalin? Nope, doesn’t happen! Or do you think the fact he’s an armed murderer causes high tension? Nope, doesn’t happen either.
Another example: despite being a movie about escapees, The Way Back lacks any force of opposition. When the characters are imprisoned in the Gulag, the guards remain almost completely invisible. After the characters flee, nobody hunts them down. When the characters reach the Sowjet-Mongolian border, nothing prevents them from easily leaving their home country. Of course, what happens is really realistic. But I don’t watch movies for realism. I already have that day in day out.
And here’s the last example: despite being a movie about escapees on the verge of physically and mentally breaking down, The Way Back lacks any form of deep character development or character arcs. The main character is a pitch perfect example of that because he indeed has a powerful motivation: he wants to find and forgive his wife for selling him out after being tortured. He knows she will never forgive herself for what she did so he has to do that. This is his driving force to survive, to not give up. But guess what? We only learn about his motivation three thirds into the movie. Up to that point he’s only a guy who wants to be free.
On a visual level the movie is quite gorgeous to look at. You get vast sceneries of eerie beauty and vastness in which the characters literally feel like unimportant dots. The guy behind the camera did a really good job, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure we can thank National Geographic for the visual feast.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the editing. The Way Back is one of the worst edited movie’s I’ve seen in years. A very good example of this is the scene where the characters flee from the camp. The first thing we see in this particular scene is a failing generator. Two cuts later the alarm goes off and the escapees are already at the fence, breaking through. Another two cuts later they’re outside. To say I understood what’s going on would be a huge exaggeration because I had no single clue whatsoever about what happened.
This sloppy and erratic editing lurks its way again and again into the movie: We see the characters walking in a deep wood surrounded by masses of snow. Cut. We see the characters walking in a forest without snow. Another example: we see the characters walking. Cut. One escapee wakes up and they’re at the Chinese Wall.
But there is one jump cut I can only describe of so bad it’s pure awesomeness again because it basically destroys half of the movie: we see the characters in the desert and how they fight against this desert and their imminent death of thirst. One character already died so it’s man vs. nature. Cut. We see one of the characters taking a relaxing bath in a river.
When I saw that cut I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was like “Ehm, what? What happened just now? Where’s the climax? Did they forget a roll?” This jump cut is amazingly bad. It’s as if Star Wars would jump cut from the moment the Death Star appears at the rebel base right to the moment everybody is celebrating their win.
All in all The Way Back remains a strange movie which left me in a state of confusion of what its point is or what it wants to tell me.