As they move south, the harsh environment and lack of food and water take a physical and emotional toll. They look for ways to cope. Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), an artist, draws pictures to lighten the mood. Zoran (Dragos Bucur) and Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård) trade quips about cooking. And when they meet a young runaway girl (Saoirse Ronan), they start to bond as a group and help one another survive against overwhelming odds.
The visionary director of such films as "Witness," "Gallipoli," and "The Mosquito Coast" is familiar with putting his characters in extreme situations. But this time Weir has outdone himself, journeying from the brutal cold to high mountains to limitless deserts. While the characters face unspeakable hardships, we rarely get to see much of their inner struggle. Much though the actors try to center the story, the harsh landscapes literally overwhelm them.
That said, Sturgess makes a believable leader. He brings a gentle strength and warmth to his character that gives the story a moral center. As always, Harris is terrific, bringing grace and humanity to the mysterious Mr. Smith, especially in the relationship that develops between him and Ronan, whose luminescent eyes light up the screen. Farrell is feral and menacing, and does a great job showing the softening in his relationship with the others.
Weir does a marvelous job in showing the conflict between man and nature but fails to demonstrate the internal conflict each person must overcome. At best, "The Way Back" is a flawed masterpiece.
Written by: Peter Weir, Keith Clarke
Directed by: Peter Weir
Starring: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Potocean, Gustaf Skarsgård, Mark Strong, Sebastian Urzendowsky.