Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Way Back.

One of these films that I felt I should see. My heart hardly leapt at the prospect: the poster (one of my principal selection criteria) looks dreary. But a good cast. My favourite (given my narrow knowledge) period of history. An esteemed director. And I wanted to go to the cinema but couldn't quite bring myself to give up two hours to see either a man saw his own arm off or Anne Hathaway's perky (thanks, teechit) breasts.

Do you know the story? A bunch of men (less by the end of the film) escape from a prison camp in Siberia and make a bid for freedom. Unfortunately for them, this entails trekking across Mongolia, the Gobi desert and Tibet before finally (132 minutes later) arriving in India. Appositely into the midst of a paddy field. You can imagine that a series of Bad Things happen along the way.

I really wanted to like it. Although my patience waned a little when I discovered (assuming that Philip French is right - and he will be) that this is based on a book which may or may not be grounded in accuracy.

The depiction of the prison camp is fabulous. It's very easy (says she) to make cinematic recreations full of skeletal figures and staring eyes and lacklustre drifting here and there doing nobody really knows what. This prison camp was packed to the gunnels with injustices, its own prisoner version of the mafia, maggots and misery in abundance. This must be commended.

But the journey. Well, if it was a recreation of a real trip, I would have all the patience in the world for it. As it is, given what a monumental amount of money it must have cost to conjure up, it was a road trip without fashion or foodstuffs to keep us interested. That's a bit harsh.

But it must be acknowledged that two thirds of the (132 minute) movie consisted of them walking, trying to find food, walking, trying to find water, walking. Lots of gorgeous shots of incredible landscapes. The mountains. The forests. The lakes. The snowscapes. The deserts. The sky at night in the desert with a million trillion stars. All stunning. And then we're back to walking. And eating (lizards / snakes / a mud-stranded deer / tiny slim fish / bark / bark / bark). And walking.

My major bugbear - and perhaps this is petty - is that the film starts with main protagonist being interrogated in (I think) Polish. But handily, in the prison camp in Siberia, main protagonist finds himself capable of fluent (albeit heavily accented) English. As does (Russian) Colin Farrell (who was brilliant. As they all were in fact.). As does lovely (supposedly Polish) Saoirse. And I think to myself, he's gone to all the bother of recreating this misery in such gloriously copious detail, could he not have not capitulated and left them handily chatting away in English?

I haven't seen Master and Commander. I did like Green Card. So it's hard to comment on his vision as a director. I'm pleased he's tried to tell the story, I think. But I lamely find myself agreeing with many of the reviewers. Given who he is, you might have expected better. But then we're all allowed a labour of love now and again. Aren't we?


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