Peter Weir's The Way Back enters the canon of survival films as perhaps the most sadistically intent on making you feel as much of its subjects' physical agony as possible. Despite its impeccable awards pedigree and prestige pic status, it may be too straight-up harrowing to get much traction, either with the Academy voters or at the box office. For those with the fortitude to take the plunge, it offers an intense, morally thorny exploration of the limits of human endurance.
Weir, the great Australian director of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, and The Truman Show, is notoriously selective with his projects, and makes a film a couple times a decade. This purportedly true story, based on the ghostwritten memoir of Slavomir Rawicz (called The Long Walk, not to be confused with the great early Stephen King novella), obviously means a lot to Weir, and the movie gleams with painstaking effort. According to Rawicz, he and his companions escaped a Siberian gulag in 1940 and crossed the continent due south – on foot, armed with a single knife and one sack's worth of food – to emerge from the Himalayas into India in 1941.