A tale of man’s capacity to endure that’s layered with Christian undercurrents, The Way Back tells the astounding true-life story of three prisoners who in 1940 broke out of a Siberian gulag and journeyed four-thousand miles by foot across the snowy wilderness, arid desert and Himalayan mountains to freedom in India. Peter Weir’s first film since 2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World opens with Polish everyman Janusz (Jim Sturgess) being fingered by his wife – after obvious torture – as a foreign spy. Incarcerated in a Siberian prison, Janusz breaks out with the help of a few comrades, including unsentimental American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and vicious criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), whose flight isn’t from Mother Russia – at one point, he proudly defends his chest tattoo of Lenin and Stalin by claiming that the latter is a “man of iron” – but from debts likely to get him killed. Their subsequent journey takes them across terrain that Weir and regular cinematographer Russell Boyd depict as simultaneously hostile and gorgeous, the imposing and threatening environment constantly dwarfing the men (visually, emotionally, physically) as they valiantly attempt to make their way to safety. Though its narrative is occasionally sluggish and burdened by a coda that tips too far into mawkish melodrama, Weir’s film captures a potent, tangible sense of space, and his cast – relegated to long stretches of silence punctuated by desperate action, as when a starving Farrell frantically munches on a caterpillar – conveys internal and external exhaustion and determination with little showboating. Eventually joined by a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) who’s fleeing a Russian farming collective, the troupe’s odyssey soon exhibits Christian shadings – buckets of water from a desert well are poured over men’s heads baptismally; Janusz later bathes in a stream with arms outstretched in a Jesus Christ pose; and, ultimately, Janusz refuses to quit, or let Mr. Smith give up and die, in the blindingly hot desert because he’s driven by a need to find and forgive his wife for her accusation. As such, The Way Back, bolstered by Weir’s evocatively soulful depiction of the vast untamed Earth, proves a subtly touching religiously oriented saga of compassion, conviction and absolution.