In Contention

TELLURIDE: ‘The Way Back,’ ‘The King’s Speech’

Posted by · 5:09 pm · September 4th, 2010

The second day of Telluride has brought treat after treat. I decided early this morning to skip the world premiere of Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” in favor of Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” because I could slide two films in rather than the one. Peter Weir’s latest, “The Way Back” (which didn’t generate many reviews at all from last night’s premiere — most must have been at “Never Let Me Go”) was playing shortly after.

It couldn’t have been a better decision. I was treated to both the film of the festival so far and a profoundly moving work of art from a modern master.

Let’s dive in…

“The Way Back” (****)

Peter Weir has made a career out of visual feasts with thematic resilience. Some might consider him the David Lean of our time, and with good reason. But the key difference is that Weir has slowly developed an art house niche out of epic scale filmmaking.

This kind of thing obviously doesn’t lend itself to studio interest, especially in a day and age when those at the top are frequently number crunchers and business types lacking the cinema knowledge (and appreciation) base of their predecessors. As such, a film like “The Way Back” waited forever for a company to bite, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m convinced it’s an embarrassment and a blight on many records that the film and Weir have been left out in the cold, because this is quietly profound, epic, bold filmmaking at its very best.

The film is unconventional in its depiction of a long march by Siberian Gulag escapees out of Communist Russia. But rather than becoming repetitive or aimless, the film’s series of vignettes depicting the mundane particulars of survival (be it physical or psychological) is incredibly moving and consistently engaging.

The narrative starts in a Poland interrogation center (introducing us to central character Janusz, capably portrayed by young talent Jim Sturgess) before whisking us away to the Siberian labor camp. There we meet a number of the individuals we’ll accompany on an epic journey out of snow-drenched Russia, across the deserts of Mongolia and the Great Wall of China and, ultimately, over the Himalayas into India. And though dramatized, it all actually happened.

Sturgess is a wonderful anchor for the viewer throughout, but it’s probably the performances from Ed Harris and, especially, Colin Farrell that stand out the most. Nevertheless, this is a true ensemble piece very much concerned with the necessity of togetherness to pull through the worst and Weir, along with a below-the-line crew worthy of love letters, pulls it off without a hitch.

“The King’s Speech” (***1/2)

Speaking of ensemble pieces, Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” started things off just right this morning and received a hell of a reaction from the crowd. I haven’t seen or heard reactions from “127 Hours” yet, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the film of the festival so far, a wonderful, touching story well told.

Colin Firth stars as King George VI, though of course when we meet him he is still merely “Bertie,” the Duke of York, serving on the British Royal Navy in the shadow of his brother, expected throne inheritor Edward VIII. Afflicted with a stammering impediment since an early age, he never expected to take control of the empire, and certainly not at perhaps its most delicate time of crisis.

The film tells the story of his relationship with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), the speech therapist who helped him reach that unthinkable position with the confidence the people of England expect of their king. And Hooper knocks it right out of the park. He films his actors closely with a wide lens to affect a sort of intimacy with the narrative. Indeed, it’s rare to feel this close with the characters in a film, and much of that is owed to a pair of truly exceptional performances from Firth and Rush.

These two have amazing, impeccable chemistry together. The script (along with their own input) offers a wonderful balance of humor and drama for the actors to work with. Each should comfortably find himself in the hunt for Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the film land nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Art Direction (absolutely splendid). The cinematography and film editing are also quite worthy.

Firth, Rush and Hooper were greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation when they took to the stage for a Q&A, where Hooper told the story of how screenwriter David Seidler (who himself once overcame a speech impediment) wrote the Queen Mother in the early 1980s asking permission to write the script. “Not in my lifetime please,” she asked of him. The events were still too fresh for her. Nearly 30 years later, he sat down to write this moving piece of work and Hooper, Firth, Rush and a wonderful cast have taken good care of it. I can’t wait to ask them more about it. I’m on my way out the door now to do just that.

More, including thoughts on an evening screening of “127 Hours,” later tonight.

→ 62 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

62 responses so far

  • 1 9-04-2010 at 5:20 pm

    Hero said...

    Wonderful! I’ve been anticipating these two movies so much. Glad to see all of that energy will be worthwhile.

  • 2 9-04-2010 at 5:23 pm

    Hunter Tremayne said...

    Great stuff, Kris! I note that both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are of a like mind with you.

  • 3 9-04-2010 at 5:23 pm

    The Dude said...

    Twitter has been all abuzz about how well “127 Hours” played tonight…

    …it seems that the fall movie season is something to look forward to. “Black Swan,” “Somewhere,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Way Back,” “127 Hours” have all gotten good to great reactions (as has “Never Let Me Go,” although the reaction is a bit more mixed). After this abysmal summer season, I’m looking forward to a solid fall/winter.

  • 4 9-04-2010 at 5:33 pm

    Drew said...

    Great news for both features. Very eager to know what other top critics will think of Weir’s latest. I hope that it can gain some awards momentum even if it is distributed by Newmarket, the same company that also released Memento to some level of Oscar success.

  • 5 9-04-2010 at 5:41 pm

    tintin said...

    What about Ronan?

  • 6 9-04-2010 at 5:44 pm

    Ryan said...

    yea how are Mark Strong and Saoirse Ronan? Are they even in it that much?

  • 7 9-04-2010 at 5:44 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...


    I just hope Weir keeps chugging along. Fight on Weir!

  • 8 9-04-2010 at 5:48 pm

    Tim said...

    I’m also curious about Ronan.

    So it appears that two best actor slots have been taken. It looks like Colin Firth and James Franco are locks.

  • 9 9-04-2010 at 6:01 pm

    Squirrelman said...


    First non-Twitter review of 127 Hours, courtesy of the LA Times.

    I’m officially more excited for this now. :D

  • 10 9-04-2010 at 6:07 pm

    Duncan Houst said...

    Great to know Kris. It’s sad “The Way Back” won’t be getting an Oscar campaign any time soon. Or any time ever most likely. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing it when it’s released in January. As for “The King’s Speech”, I actually get to see it at the end of the month at ‘Telluride by the Sea’. So I’m really excited that it’s actually a great film, and I’m going to get to see it sooner rather than later.

  • 11 9-04-2010 at 6:17 pm

    McAllister said...

    Great to hear about both films… especially “The Way Back.” I hope it can secure a 2010 week release of some sort… I really want Colin Farrell to get a nomination if nothing else.

  • 12 9-04-2010 at 6:22 pm

    Ryan said...

    Well, hopefully the the positive reaction to the TWB continues which will force Newmarket to try and not look stupid and just give it, at the very least a qualifying run.

    AO Scott put up a mini-rave of the film and singled out Harris, Ronan, and Sturgess.

  • 13 9-04-2010 at 6:28 pm

    JJ said...

    So glad to hear your thoughts on these movies, Kris. And SO glad to hear there are such a host of great movies to look forward to in the next 4 months.

  • 14 9-04-2010 at 6:28 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ronan is fabulous but muted (until the emotion hits). Strong is in it for maybe 15 minutes.

  • 15 9-04-2010 at 6:33 pm

    JJ said...

    And what of Helena Bonham Carter in TKS?

  • 16 9-04-2010 at 6:58 pm

    Tim said...

    JJ, this is from The Hollywood Reporter:

    “Carter is a revelation here despite a long career as a leading lady. She makes Bertie’s wife into not just a warm and caring soul but a witty and attractive woman who understands her husband much better than he does himself.”

    But I’d also like to hear Kris’ thoughts.

  • 17 9-04-2010 at 7:01 pm

    M said...

    Glad to see your reviews for TWB, haven’t seen many but it is nice to know you enjoyed. I can’t wait to see it.

  • 18 9-04-2010 at 7:15 pm

    Danielle said...

    How was Bonham-Carter? :)

  • 19 9-04-2010 at 8:15 pm

    JJ said...

    Thanks, Tim. :-)

  • 20 9-04-2010 at 8:25 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    awesome, happy there are some good movies to look forward to

  • 21 9-04-2010 at 9:00 pm

    ninja said...

    Awesome news for Firth who is on the roll. This movie is can`t-miss win for him. Historical person, speech impediment, uplifting story, Harvey Weinstein, I don`t see who can beat him. Fantastic actor too.

    Don`t want The Way Back to steal spotlight from Black Swan, Inception and Social Network because it sounds like a typical Oscar bait and I don`t a typical bait to win even thought Weir is so awesome and certainly deserving of a director win for many of his past work. Farrell nom would be nice though. Ronan`s trying to too hard to become a teen Leo Dicaprio, all those morbid, depressive roles. I wish they both lighten up cause Leo is a movie magic when he turns on his charm and Ronan is such a bubbly girl.

  • 22 9-04-2010 at 9:52 pm

    Zack said...

    I was honestly a little scared that “The King’s Speech” sounded too bait-y to be any good, but I’m completely sold now.

  • 23 9-04-2010 at 9:57 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    oh, cool. I was really worried about The King’s Speech.

  • 24 9-04-2010 at 10:12 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    What I want to know is if the Yeti scene from the novel is in the film (The Way Back, that is)? Not a big deal if not, but that would be incredibly ballsy of Weir to keep it in.

    In any case, glad to hear both films were so great. I am VERY excited about The Way Back, it sounds incredible.

  • 25 9-04-2010 at 10:14 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I was never worried about The King’s Speech. I completely believed in its awards prospects from the get-go, and am excited to see the film itself ASAP.

    As for The Way Back, pleasantly amazed to see a 4-star rating! Wow. Interesting in regards to the performances, but I had a feeling Farrell had the standout character. Many said this would tank, awards-wise, because of nationality bullshit, but in Weir’s hands, I figured there was hope. Hopefully, they’ll all see the advantages of releasing this in December. Maybe Weir could get in for director/writing, and perhaps the film itself, too. The cast I’m less certain about, except maybe either Farrell or Harris for the veteran slot. (He could win with the proper push.) But they might snub them all despite loving the film as a whole. It happens from time to time, and it won’t change how good the film seems to be.

  • 26 9-04-2010 at 10:22 pm

    Michael said...

    Kris: Could you just explain why your 3 1/2 star rated review is for the “film of the festival” and your 4 star review isn’t? There is probably a simple answer, but just wondering.

    If you think so highly of The Way Back you should yell it from the rooftops, as should everyone else who loves it. The film needs an Oscar qualifying run to make an impact.

  • 27 9-04-2010 at 10:51 pm

    Soupy said...

    The news on King’s Speech is very exciting – I was worried that it was going to be overhyped as well but now my fears are completely relieved. I can’t wait to hear how 127 Hours is.

    Personally, even if 127 Hours is an amazing movie, I don’t think Franco could compete with Firth who is long overdue for an Oscar. Franco will get his moment someday but I don’t think he’ll get an Oscar for an obscure psychological thriller….just doesn’t seem to fit the Oscar format (as much as I usually disagree with their requirements for an award).

  • 28 9-04-2010 at 10:58 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I doubt he’ll win either, Soupy, but I think he at least deserves a nomination by now and hopefully the film supports that claim, especially since he’ll never get in for Howl but I’ve heard impeccable feedback.

  • 29 9-04-2010 at 11:04 pm

    Danny King said...

    Michael – Despite Kris’ 3 1/2 star rating, I think he declared “The King’s Speech” the “film of the festival” because of the tremendous response it received from all corners. He tweeted something about a grand standing ovation.

  • 30 9-04-2010 at 11:08 pm

    moviefan1 said...

    I can see Firth vs. Duvall for Best Actor

  • 31 9-04-2010 at 11:29 pm

    kid said...

    Sooooooooooo happy to hear this. I’ve been looking forwards to The Way Back since it was announced and then when you told me about how troubled it apparently was with your off the carpet comments. As well as the fact that no distributor went for it. Also happy about Kings Speech since I was very worried it was just be some boring period Oscar trash.

  • 32 9-04-2010 at 11:45 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Michael: “Film of the festival” refers to the audience reaction.

  • 33 9-04-2010 at 11:46 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And by the way, I’m *this* close to bumping King’s Speech up to four. I can’t quite think of anything really holding it back. It’s a touch long for what it is, but you don’t really feel it.

  • 34 9-04-2010 at 11:57 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    ^Ah nice, I love films like that. In 2008, I saw Milk (128m) and Slumdog Millionaire (120m) consecutively. The editing for Milk was so brisk that I craved more, whereas while I love SM, there was a point where I felt it was plodding along a bit.

  • 35 9-05-2010 at 12:56 am

    Fitz said...

    I was hoping that these two would make some noise and, according to Mr. Tapley’s reaction, they did.

  • 36 9-05-2010 at 4:22 am

    Michael W. said...

    Interesting read about The King’s Speech. It really was a film I had a hard time seeing being a factor in the awards race. It just seemed “too 80’s”.

    I really didn’t think it was something the academy would go for in this day and age.

    But maybe I have to rethink that position now that the word on it is great.

    And with the success Tom Hooper has had with Tv-productions in the last 5 years, I guess a very critical acclaimed film is a given at some point. And this looks like it.

  • 37 9-05-2010 at 6:51 am

    Koto said...

    Thank you for the great reviews! I’m really looking forward to seeing The Way Back.I just hope TWB will be get Oscar noms,or else probably it won’t be released in my country anytime soon…sadly.

    Kris,may I ask you some questions?

    Do you think TWB will be given Oscar run?TWB has much buzz at Telluride? Was theater packed? How was audience reaction to TWB?

    Thank you.

  • 38 9-05-2010 at 7:09 am

    ninja said...

    @ “I can see Firth vs. Duvall for Best Actor”

    Aw hell naw! Firth is not going to lose AGAIN because another underrated veteran actor has some heartfelt movie out. No knock on Bridges who is going to rock the shizzle in sure-to-be-awesome Tron Legacy. But Firth was amazing last year too and looks like he knocked it out of the park again. In a mother of a baity roles (biopic + physical handicap). Right now, he`s the one to beat.

  • 39 9-05-2010 at 7:27 am

    Hero said...

    Deep breath, ninja. Duvall, unlike Bridges, already has an Oscar. You can see how far “But that was a long time ago” has gotten Meryl Streep.

  • 40 9-05-2010 at 7:48 am

    moviefan1 said...

    ninja, dont worry I do think Firth has a good chance. Duvall already has an oscar like Hero already said. Though I do think Bridges performance in Crazy Heart is becoming somewhat underrated, it really is a tremendous performance that was deserving of an Oscar

  • 41 9-05-2010 at 8:08 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    Personally i would give the Oscar next year for Best Leading Actor either to Javier Bardem for Biutiful or Andy Serkis for Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll! Both gave brilliant performances and both are brilliant actors! BUT i think that the Academy will give the Oscar to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech! Because they snubbed him this year for such a fantastic performance in A Single Man and also this is Oscar Material and i don’t believe that they will give another Oscar to Jeff Bridges or to Robert Duvall or for the first time to Stephen Dorff, James Franco, Ryan Gosling or Mark Whalberg!

  • 42 9-05-2010 at 11:18 am

    JR said...

    Thrilled for both Weir and Hooper but especially the latter… In some forums, he’s been somewhat dismissed for being a TV director. That should take nothing away from his craft… Hooper’s done exemplary work with material (Elizabeth, John Adams) that is better served in a miniseries than a 2-hour movie. He always gets the best talent, too.

    I do hope Weir gets some kind of distribution. The Way Back sounds tremendous.

  • 43 9-05-2010 at 2:13 pm

    Margaret.03 said...

    Really hope Saoirse earns herself an oscar nom with this film. Same with Weir, Farrell, and Harris. Even Sturgess. And REALLY hope TWB earns a BP nod :D

  • 44 9-05-2010 at 2:24 pm

    robbie said...

    Really pleased to read about TWB. It needs to get a release in December. Hope you and other critics put some pressure on the film company. Dont know why they arent showing it at Toronto.

  • 45 9-05-2010 at 5:05 pm

    j said...

    Jealous but glad that you think the films are amazing.

    They’re the top 2 prestige films this year I want to see do well with the Academy; King’s Speech is my unseen pick for Picture & Actor, Way Back Supporting Actress.

  • 46 9-05-2010 at 5:14 pm

    Ryan said...

    Kris said she’s fabulous but to me it doesnt seem like an oscar role…based on what he said she’s probably in the background alot but delivers the goods when it’s her moment. Excited nonetheless to see her evolution as an actress.

  • 47 9-06-2010 at 4:41 am

    aspect ratio said...

    Hearing the positive reaction to this, I must say is making me jazzed up for this. It feels like it’s been ages since I saw a good old-fashioned period drama. They just fell out of favor after the Weinstein’s Miramax era. They’re often conventional, but done well they’re as good as anything else. I wasn’t aware that Hooper was the director of this until just recently either, and I loved The Damned United, so that makes me even more excited.

    And with ten films up for Best Picture, it surely feels far more okay with a conventional period film like this making it in.

  • 48 9-06-2010 at 12:03 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***It feels like it’s been ages since I saw a good old-fashioned period drama.***

    “Bright Star”…?

  • 49 9-06-2010 at 12:06 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    They said good.

  • 50 9-06-2010 at 12:07 pm

    Speaking English said...

    If Campion’s film isn’t at the very very very least “good,” then I am at a loss as to what is.

  • 51 9-06-2010 at 2:01 pm

    crazy said...

    I still don’t understand the whole 3.5 vs. 4 star rating thing…if the King’s Speech produced such a response from the crowd, doesn’t that mean that it’s an amazing movie (like 127 Hours)???? If anything, that says to me that it’s an even BETTER movie than 127 Hours if it was one of the only movies to receive a 5 minute standing ovation. Maybe everyone just still has a crush on Colin Firth :)

  • 52 9-06-2010 at 2:10 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Well the crowds here aren’t rating it. I am. Ya know?

    But like I said, it’s very close to a four-star thing for me. Still considering.

  • 53 6-07-2011 at 11:44 pm

    John said...

    Okay, I’m totally missed the boat, but I’m still gonna comment ; )

    @ ninja: “Ronan`s trying to too hard to become a teen Leo Dicaprio, all those morbid, depressive roles.”

    It is clear that you have no clue how to pick good parts, but then again you have never been in that situation, so I excuse you of your ignorance. Here’s a lesson, son: Why on earth would she turn down a Peter Weir film when she’s offered the sole female part? There aren’t a lot of good roles for young actresses, let alone actors under 20. The “Lovely Bones” was THE coveted role for a teenage actress when casting was being done.

    You also commented that you didn’t want “The Way Back” to steal the spot light of your other favorite films (which became true), I would safely bet that if a studio, besides Newmarket, had the courage to pick it up and run a successful Oscar campaign it would’ve at least eliminated one of the movies you’ve mentioned.

    It’s a shame that a Weir film was forgotten during awards season (and I believe it could’ve fared well if given the chance) and it speaks volumes of the current state of Hollywood. We have number crunchers who know little about film and pick actors who are popular instead of the right ones, who pick films that will recycle the green. By no means does “The Way Back”‘s financial loss and theater absence speaks of its merit and value.