The Way Back is a tale of survival under nature's most brutal circumstances. Director Peter Weir (Master and Commander) brings a realistic adaptation of a group of POW's who escape from a Siberian prison.
It's 1941, in the midst of World War II and Hitler's reign over Poland, and people of all race and creed are arrested and forced into prison camps. A group of varied POW's decide to escape and walk their way to freedom. In the bunch, lead by Janusz (Jim Sturgess) a Polish prisoner, is an American (Ed Harris), a Russian criminal (Colin Farrell), a Polish runaway (Saoirse Roman), and a entourage of four more escapees.The group escapes during a brutal snowstorm and subsequentially must survive some of nature's harshest elements. Since the climate is so brutal, the prison is not well guarded, so they are able to escape hoping to make it through the night.
They begin their 4,000 mile journey through Siberian forests, Mongolian plains, the Great Wall of China, the unforgiving Tibetan desert, and the enormous Himalayas, before finally reaching India.
Many films of this nature are often criticized for not representing the reality of the situation, like hypothermia in the freezing forest or intense burns in the Tibetan desert. Weir doesn't forget any of these details and it makes the movie quite difficult to watch at times.
You feel the pain and absolute misery of near-death this group has to endure. And the realism doesn't stop there - without giving too much away, naturally not everyone makes it to India and succumb to the harsh elements thrown at them.
Weir doesn't develop his characters very much - he's more interested in showing the vast landscape and the character's struggle against their number 1 enemy - nature. You get a sense of the character types Weir was trying to represent, but you don't get much beyond that. Each character brings a different perspective on survival - you get a few tidbits of information about their past, but that's about it.
The actors all portray their characters well and no one really stands out in this ensemble cast - they all bring equally good performances.
Overall, the film is devastating in the way it portrays the struggles and real willpower people have when faced with living or dying. It's truly man against nature.