There is a lot to like about The Way Back: great scenery and photography; some fine acting; a boy's own adventure (well almost if you don't count the girl). But overall this is not one of Peter Weir's best films.
The horrors of Stalinism were laboured without revealing anything new or deepening our understanding of the gulag tragedy. Perhaps it will help to educate a younger audience.
The storyline is predictable and clichéd.
The performance of Colin Farrell, as the criminal Valka, is the most appealing but then he has the most to work with. His dark-Irish charisma suits the part. Ed Harris, as the American Mr. Smith, rarely gets beyond wooden or perhaps it's just the enigmatic character he's playing. Jim Sturgess, as the leader Janusz, is too good to have survived as far as Siberia.
The direction and editing are pedestrian (no pun intended). Cinematic devices such as the dream of coming home to the front door are twee to say the least. Perhaps the walking boots at the end are a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Eisenstein.
The script screams out for some insight into the individuals - what made them unique as well as universal.
Nevertheless, if you're into survival sagas, then this two-hour-plus contribution to the genre should suit.