Russian gulags were never known for their fair treatment of their prisoners, most of which were political prisoners, given unbelievably long sentences, often on chumped up charges of treason, espionage, or criticism of “Comrade Stalin.” The prisoners held in this gulag were no different.
Although a reasonably unknown film, the cast is made up of a surprising collection of A-list actors to include Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, and Saoirse Ronan. The other lesser-known co-stars are on par with the A-listers in this dramatic escape-turned-journey flick.
The film begins with a new batch of prisoners rolling into the camp in Siberia. Very quickly it becomes apparent that the only way to survive the camp (especially if you are assigned to the mines), is escape. Eventually a group of men do perpetrate an escape, and by living off the land they make their way down to Mongolia, across the steppes, through China’s Gobi Desert, on the way to Tibet and eventually India.
Carrying the grief and guilt of his mistakes earlier in life, and feeling responsible for his son’s death; Ed Harris’ character is cold, reserved and determined.
It’s interesting seeing Ed Harris play an American in a gulag, after his role in Enemy at the Gates as a German sharp-shooter. This is the second film that Ed Harris has played in which has so much to do with the Soviet Union. His character is certainly of a different status in this film than it was in Enemy at the Gates, and the premise is completely different, but Ed still has his style and that hasn’t changed.
The film is a classic ‘great adventure’ film, where the characters encounter danger and complications at each and every turn. The screenplay is based on a true story; however details as always had to be changed in order to adapt it to the screen. As often happens with the production of films, the production crew had to decide which country would “play” Siberia, and Romania was decided upon. Though the director didn’t go into detail about why they didn’t film in Siberia, one could certainly begin to speculate. One good reason would be the embarrassment of the Russian people and the government; another could be purely budget austerity, or perhaps even logistics. Whatever the reason, the filming locations look fantastic and they work well in the screenplay.
This film really speaks for itself, and it is definitely worth watching.