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January 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

For the most part, critics are giving director Peter Weir’s The Way Back, his first feature in seven years, positive reviews — not glowing ones, which are the kind the Australian director customarily evokes for such films as Gallipoli,

Director Peter Weir

The Year of Living Dangerously, The Truman Show and Master and Commander. The reason, of course, is that they find the film itself doesn’t measure up to Weir’s cinematic genius. Indeed, Ty Burr in the Boston Globe remarks that Weir is not “capable of making a bad movie,” then adds that “The Way Back is one of the few that’s good rather than great.” And Kyle Smith concludes in the New York Post: “Stirring as it frequently is, The Way Back is a good movie that should have been a classic.” The film is based on a disputed account of a man who allegedly led a band of Siberian gulag prisoners on a 4,000-mile trek to India during World War II. “There are exhilarating moments, and there are some undeniably tense scenes,” writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. “Mixed in, however, is possibly more trudging than you’re going to see in any other film.” Adds Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: “It’s a tough journey and not just for [the characters]. … It isn’t that watching people walk, and walk some more, is dull … It’s that Mr. Weir’s self-consciously magisterial visuals … tend to lull and even reassure you when you should be shaken to the core.” And all that plodding, several critics suggest, defies compelling plotting. Writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Desperation and exhaustion make it difficult for the trekkers to work up much in the way of characters or conflicts.” Nevertheless, Ebert goes on, Weir provides “a visual feast. I am far from sorry I saw it.” And Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquire suggests that Weir intended to allow the visual elements to compensate for the cursory characters. As she puts it, “The characters on this trek are a lot less interesting than the landscapes. Weir does not mine them for their scenic properties, but for their emotional elements. The result is a one-of-a-kind experience.” And Dan Kois concludes in the Washington Post that, all in all, the movie amounts to “an uplifting, complicated work of art from a director whose ability to tell intimate stories on a big historical canvas is unmatched in Hollywood.”