A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that because this rousing, World War II-era adventure film focuses on prison and wilderness survival, there's plenty of intense, disturbing imagery -- such as blood, sickness, starvation, and death. But at the same time, the movie has strong, inspiring messages related to teamwork, kindness, and overcoming challenges. Expect a bit of violence and infrequent but strong swearing (including "f--k"), as well as images of naked women in the form of drawings used as prison currency. Characters also trade cigarettes while they're imprisoned and, in one scene, share a bottle of vodka.
What's the story?
During World War II, Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is arrested and thrown into a Siberian gulag. With the help of more experienced inmates like Valka (Colin Farrell) and "Mr. Smith" (Ed Harris), seven prisoners manage a successful escape into the woods. Along the way, they pick up a runaway girl, Irena (Saoirse Ronan), despite worries that she'll slow them down. Against all odds, they survive the harsh, freezing elements and complete the long trek south to the Mongolian border. But circumstances are against them, and they discover that they must keep walking, through Mongolia and Tibet and into India, across the dry, brutal flatlands. How long can this ragtag band stay alive?
Is it any good?
As he did in the excellent Master and Commander, Australian director Peter Weir makes this wartime tale a sleek, rousing, old-fashioned adventure instead of a somber, self-important epic slog. He accomplishes that by focusing on the relationships between the men and taking a cue from old-time studio filmmakers like Howard Hawks.
THE WAY BACK is arguably less fun than Master and Commander, mainly because of the disturbing imagery (i.e. starvation, sickness, death, etc.) that inherently goes with prison movies and wilderness survival movies. But Weir makes it all bearable with his general swiftness and tone. The actors follow suit with warm performances from everyone involved, especially Farrell as a dangerous but boisterous misfit. In the end, teamwork, sharing, and kindness win out over violence and cruelty.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence and disturbing imagery. Was it necessary to the plot? Was it thrilling or upsetting? How did the movie achieve that reaction?
How do the characters change over the course of the movie? What do they learn?
Some of the male characters think that bringing a girl (Irena) along will slow them down. Is this a stereotype? Does Irena prove them wrong, or not? What do they learn from her?
- In theaters: January 21, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: April 21, 2011
- Cast: Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan
- Director: Peter Weir
- Studio: Newmarket Film Group
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 133 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violent content, depiction of physical hardships, a nude image and brief strong language
For kids who love adventure
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.