Because it's a shithole, OK.
Peter Weir is not a director many would think to site amongst their favourite directors, at least anyone I know, but dude has been Oscar nominated six times. Six times. I reckon that's more then David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle combined. And in a way that makes sense, Weir tells human stories, often unburdened by overly intrusive visual style or any embellishments that go beyond just telling the story. This can be seen as a failing or an attribute in equal measure, but for me it depends on the story in question. But its kind of encouraging that a film-maker that goes to great lengths to be invisible in his work can get so well acknowledged. Because he's made some great films for exactly that reason.
The Way Back, his first film since 2003's Master and Commander, is another apt example of everything Weir can do right as a film-maker, in that its simultaneously low-key and epic in that he doesn't let the soundtrack or the camera-work over-compensate, and just tells a mature story of human survival against the elements, in which the characters themselves take centre stage. And it works as a moving, almost minimalist story, that doesn't hit you over the head with the tragedy, rather letting its slowly creep up on you. Featuring some great performances, even leading man Jim Sturgess who previously I've had my doubts about, has had a very interesting 2010 and does good work here. One would expect Ed Harris do give a give a good performance, but its one of his better ones, exuding a wisdom combined with cynicism to lend some real weight to that oldest guy in prison stereotype. Colin Farrell, who seems to find his groove most when in supporting roles, gives a great performance as a sort of Russian street thug and Dragos Bucur lend s some depth to his comic relief character, But I think what I liked the most is how well the film fleshed out all of its characters, rather then just the ones played by famous actors.
Atonement's Saoirse Ronan gives another performance to suggest why she's the Oscar bait child actor of choice and Weir excels at making the environment feel like a character, from the bitter winters to the expansive deserts to the point where we almost feel the weight of every step the characters take as they trek through the wilderness. Its a little familiar, and other films about extraordinary survival will perhaps have some similar elements. But it's just a classy, eloquent example of film-making, something that Weir delivers almost every time out.