Who's In It: Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan
The Basics: Pop quiz, hot shot--you're stuck in one of Stalin's Siberian prisons, and the only thing sticking you there is the promise of almost certain death if you decide to leave and walk to freedom thousands of miles away. Do you stay and go down from starvation and torture or do you walk the thousands of miles and starve that way instead? Or be shot by random strangers or eaten by animals or frozen to death or baked by the sun or a combination of all of the above? In this story, inspired by people who really did it and suffered all the consequences, the answer is they walked. A couple of them lived. Barely.
What's The Deal: This is a perfect example of the well-made (from acclaimed director Peter Weir), well-acted and well-everything-elsed film that you watch, admire and then hope to never lay eyes on again. You know going in that almost no one on this death march is going to make it, so you hold back any sort of emotional investment in them, but then all that does is leave you nothing left to do but think about how good all the scenery looks in between grueling episodes of human suffering. It's like The Great Escape, minus the bravado, swagger and energy. You don't blame anyone for that really--they're doing all they can just to survive--but you'll still kind of wish you were seeing that other movie instead.
Performances That Make It Worth Looking At In Spite of That Anvil-In-Your-Lap Feeling: Jim Sturgess makes the leap from dumb crud like 21 and Across The Universe into fancy Oscar movie territory as the only person you're really rooting for, the one with the most to prove and settle. Meanwhile, Colin Farrell keeps on demonstrating how wrong his early detractors were--he can act and he does it well, it's just that they kept trying to turn him into Tom Cruise when what he really needed to be doing was meaty character roles. And young Saoirse Ronan is the kind of girl you know is never going to be asked to do a Can't Hardly Wait-style teen comedy because she's already getting solidly typecast as the kid who ruins lives (Atonement), gets murdered (The Lovely Bones) or winds up collapsing from heatstroke. She's great at delivering on that serious-face level, but you wonder if she'll ever lighten up.
Lasting Effect: Will prove to you that you're a weakling who'd probably collapse 10 days into the journey and get eaten by domestic cats from a neighboring village.