Don’t be afraid of ‘The Way Back’

Posted by · 9:31 pm · September 5th, 2010

As I write this, I can hear Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” playing at the Abel Gance outdoor cinema screen a block away.  As I passed the massive crowd that turned out for tonight’s screening, it got me thinking about Eugene Novikov’s Cinematical review of the film, which was unfortunately picked up at many outlets following Friday night’s debut.  Unfortunate because it completely misrepresents the film.

Starting with the first line, Novikov says Weir’s film is “sadistically intent on making you feel as much of its subjects’ physical agony as possible” It’s a struggle, to be sure. This isn’t a happy time in these people’s lives. But there’s nothing here defying convention when it comes to a survival film, so why the hyperbole? And “sadistic” is an unfortunate adjective because it assumes a twisted sort of intention, which isn’t true at all. If Weir is being “sadistic,” then I’d love to hear what Novikov thinks Danny Boyle is doing in “127 Hours.”

He goes on to say the film is “too straight up harrowing” to get awards traction. Novikov might think the film could have a tough road ahead Oscar wise, but it certainly won’t be because the film is “too harrowing.” There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen a thousand times in a thousand Oscar contenders, and that’s not to say it’s derivative (it isn’t). It simply doesn’t depict the gruesome journey Novikov projects.

Maybe Novikov thought the film was depressing. That would be fair. Again, it’s not a happy journey. Maybe he found it dark. They marched 4,000 miles across a continent and, I don’t think it’s a spoiler, not everyone survived. This is not “sadistic” or “too harrowing.” It’s actually very human, naturalistic and, ultimately, moving.

The biggest zinger comes when the writer notes (by way of being speculative of the true events upon which the film is based) that “true stories rarely make great movies anyhow.” Come again? I get it. He’s saying dramatization is generally more intriguing. Debatable, but also quite reductive, based on how he writes it here.  And while the film may pose some interesting moral questions, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “morally thorny.”

I will agree with Novikov that the film takes a “merciless, unflinching approach” to the events it depicts. I’ll also agree with his admiration of Weir’s landscape sense. And fair enough if he had an “intense, unpleasant experience,” but that’s not the film virtually everyone I’ve talked to saw. And it’s certainly not the film I saw. It makes me wish all the more that I had skipped “Never Let Me Go” in order to offer the counter-balance to a review that quickly became the face of a film in the critical community before other voices eventually came to its aid (but were unfortunately too late).

The film will not be “too painful for people to endure.” And it is not, in my opinion, a film that is “inspiring in the grimmest possible way.” Quite the contrary, in some ways.  So when “The Way Back” finds its way to you, don’t think you need to have “the fortitude to take the plunge,” as Novikov warns with breathless exaggeration. It’s nothing you haven’t handled before.

[Photo: Newmarket Films]

→ 17 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

17 responses so far

  • 1 9-05-2010 at 9:45 pm

    andrea said...

    How did you like Swan and Illusionist Kris?

  • 2 9-05-2010 at 9:46 pm

    Michael said...

    I am really looking forward to this film, I just hope it gets treated with a measure of respect by its distributors. I feel it needs an awards run to gain any traction in the market. Nice work Kris for kick-starting the conversation and clarifying some of the misguided views of the film out there.

  • 3 9-05-2010 at 10:09 pm

    Ryan said...

    Great write-up. Pleased to see you being a voice for Weir’s latest. Cant wait to see it.

  • 4 9-05-2010 at 11:26 pm

    Nelson said...

    this guy is an idiot. I am at Telluride and I listened to Weir say that it IS a dramatization, based on many true stories, so this Novikov guy is not worthy of anyone’s attention

  • 5 9-06-2010 at 12:21 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    hope it gets some play at the oscars, well at least a chance to compete

  • 6 9-06-2010 at 2:34 am

    Dominik said...

    I´m really into this movie, sounds absolutely great. But honestly, the brilliant cast alone would have stimulated my rapture: Ed Harris (so overdue for awards-recognition!), the very cool and smart Colin Farrel and Saiorse Ronan (whom I have seen two times- and two times she was great and the best thing about Atonement and Lovely Bones).

    This will be a major player at next year´s Oscars, hands down!

  • 7 9-06-2010 at 4:03 am

    s said...

    Novikov’s a hack, always has been. Can’t wait to see this one.

  • 8 9-06-2010 at 4:27 am

    Cde. said...

    Thanks for sticking up for this film. Off-setting voices like Novikov’s may be very important if it’s to find distribution.

  • 9 9-06-2010 at 5:03 am

    ninja said...

    Colin for a nom. Or a win. I don`t care. He paid his dues by going from a somewhat successful movie star wannabe to a complete boxoffice poison and hack to a great character actor. What`s not to love? He`s almost like mini-Mickey only handsome and, hopefully, without selling out to crap studio movies after the comeback. Wanna go big, page Nolan, pronto.

  • 10 9-06-2010 at 6:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Cde.: It has found a welcome home at Newmarket.

  • 11 9-06-2010 at 8:24 am

    evelyn garver said...

    Thanks for the insights on what looks like a fascinating film. As for Novikov, did he see Oscar winners NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN OR THERE WILL BE BLOOD? What exactly is too harrowing for the Academy these days?

  • 12 9-06-2010 at 9:25 am

    Sam said...

    I had a sinking suspicion, after reading Novikov’s review, that he didn’t enjoy the film because it is highlighting a part of history that Hollywood is reluctant to show; the degenerate culmination of Soviet socialism. A coercive utopia always devolves into murder of population. And The Way Back highlights this monstrosity. I’m looking forward to it.

  • 13 9-06-2010 at 9:59 am

    JP said...

    This is a truly strong contender. Watch out for it… Peter Weir is probably the director that the Academy feel the biggest need to award now.

  • 14 9-06-2010 at 1:37 pm

    Corran Horn said...

    Evelyn: I was thinking the same thing. If the Academy can acknowledge NCFOM and There Will Be Blood, The Way Back wouldn’t be out of their tolerance range.

    As for Novikov, I’ve never been impressed by him. The only Cinematical critic who ever got my attention was Scott Weinberg, and I believe he now reviews for a different site.

    Kris: you mentioned earlier that Mark Strong is only in the film for 15 minutes. What character does he play?

  • 15 9-06-2010 at 2:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Just someone in the Gulag early on. Kind of lights the fire for Sturgess’s character to get out of dodge.

  • 16 9-07-2010 at 5:43 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Kris, I forgot to ask: How was the soundtrack? I still listen to Master and Commander’s…so good.