2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund
Conventional wisdom says a movie like “The Way Back” is a must-see before anyone's even seen it. The wartime setting and majestic scenery are the stuff that sweeping epics are made of. The ensemble cast includes a respected veteran (Ed Harris), a sexy household name (Colin Farrell) and two budding stars (Jim Sturgess and Saorsie Ronan) known for their interesting career choices. The story – based on true events, of course – is brought to life by a prestigious filmmaker (Peter Weir) whose last film (2003's “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) netted Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. “Done deal,” the choosy moviegoer chirps as he plans his evening.
But the choosy moviegoer forgets that conventional wisdom is fallible, and in this particular case, his done deal is in many ways a raw one. Charting one resilient group's 4,000-mile march to freedom, “The Way Back” is indeed epic in scope, but the all-important sweep is missing. And while the actors offer rather fine performances, they still can't get us close to their unreachable characters. Well-played and well-presented as it is, this is a seriously drawn-out journey I can't comfortably recommend to anyone.