In 1941, three men attempt to flee communist Russia, escaping a Siberian gulag. This movie tells their story and that of four others who escaped with them and a teenage girl, Irena Zielinska (Saoirse Ronan), who joins them in flight. The group's natural leader is Janusz Weiszczek (Jim Sturgess), a Pole condemned by accusations secured by torturing his wife, spent much of his youth outdoors, and knows how to live in the wild. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: cynical American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), Russian thug Valka (Colin Farrell), comedic accountant Zoran (Dragos Bucur), pastry chef Tomasz Horodinsky (Alexandru Potocean), who draws, Priest Andrejs Voss (Gustav Skarsgård), and Polish Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who suffers from night blindness. They face freezing nights, lack of food and water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalayas, as well as many moral and ethical dilemmas throughout the journey towards freedom.Written by
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, Shahob, Bellingham, WA, US
This movie was inspired by the memoir of Slavomir Rawicz depicting his escape from a Siberian gulag and subsequent four thousand-mile walk to freedom in India. Incredibly popular, it sold over five hundred thousand copies, and is credited with inspiring many explorers. However, in 2006, the BBC unearthed records (including some written by Rawicz) that showed he had been released by the U.S.S.R. in 1942. In 2009, another former Polish soldier, Witold Glinski, claimed that the book was really an account of his own escape. However, this claim too has been seriously challenged. See more »
Janusz demonstrates a method using shadows of a stick and rock to find the compass direction of south. Yet, many of the scenes show them walking in a direction inconsistent with sun angles i.e. sun at their backs, which would have them walking north. See more »
The story of a small group of people escaping from a Siberian Soviet prison, part of the "Gulag" in wartime and walking 4000 miles to freedom looked a trifle grim in the trailer, but Peter Weir has managed to produce a rather beautiful film out of it, using Bulgaria and Morocco as locales rather than Siberia and the Gobi desert. Only Darjeeling in India plays itself. My only trouble with it is the rather uneven character development. The story lends itself to ensemble playing but we learn little about two or three of the walkers. In the case of the lead character Janusz (Jim Sturgess) who is the source of the story this is explicable as we are seeing the others though his eyes, but it has to be said that both "Mr Smith" (the excellent Ed Harris) and the Girl (Saiorse Ronan) leave a lasting impression.
I know there is some doubt as to the authenticity of the story, taken from a 1955 book by Slavimir Rawicz a former Polish army officer, and indeed what the group are supposed to have done looks impossible but that's not a problem, because the relationships ring true. It is remarkable how an almost random collection of individuals, including one with a very unsavoury past, can, driven by sheer necessity, wind up functioning as a team. Partly this is due to the leader actually having some navigational knowledge and therefore inspiring confidence in the others. Mr Smith remarks early on that the Janusz has a serious weakness; he is kind, but when the chips are down we see that even the hard-bitten Mr Smith is capable of compassion.
Strangely enough, after the initial scenes in the prison camp, and the escape, there is not a lot of drama. The group encounter very few people on their travels and those they do meet take little interest in them (perhaps they had not heard about the bounty for escapees). Obtaining food and water is obviously a big issue, so mind out for the messy hunting scenes. I was astounded at how well their footwear stood up to the punishment; my hiking boots are not good for 400 miles let alone 4000. Actually they must have wandered around a bit - the northern end of Lake Baikal and Lhasa in Tibet are about 1800 miles apart, though the prison camp was somewhere north of the lake. It's also not clear how long the walk took, but at times it seemed like years. Weir's great achievement is to keep us watching a very drawn out tale. Personally I think I would have died of boredom if I had been in this particular walk, if starvation hadn't got me first.
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