Movie Review – The Way Back (2010)

The Way Back (2010)
Written by Peter Weir and Keith Clarke
Directed by Peter Weir

Seven years passed from Master and Commander to this, Peter Weir’s final film (for now). One of the most jarring things about the 21st century when looking at Weir’s work is how these two movies do not feel like his. His work through the 1970s to the 1990s always possessed a New Age atmosphere, spiritual but not attached to any particular dogma, humanist and appreciative of the natural world. These things are present in The Way Back but do not result in the same rich work as a film like Witness, Fearless, or The Truman Show does. The Way Back is not a terrible film, but it is definitely not one deserving of a second visit, and it ends with an incredibly clunky third act.

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Movie Review – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Written by Peter Weir and John Collee
Directed by Peter Weir

It had been five years since Peter Weir directed a movie. The Truman Show was a culmination of all his major themes across his work that it seemed like an ending in many ways. Of course, there was always more that could be said about human existence and the power we have over our own lives, but it was addressed so beautifully in that picture. Master and Commander would be Weir’s only film released in the 2000s. The film would be very well received by critics, but at the time, audiences were so focused on more escapist fare, in particular the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. That film would sweep the Oscars, and Master and Commander would be pretty much forgotten by most people. 

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Movie Review – The Truman Show

The Truman Show (1998)
Written by Andrew Niccol
Directed by Peter Weir

In 1991, screenwriter Andrew Niccol began shopping around a spec script for The Malcolm Show. It was a science-fiction thriller set in New York City that focused on a man discovering his life was a television show, and he tried to escape the control of his handlers. Many directors were considered: Brian DePalma, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, Steven Spielberg. Eventually, the studio chose to go with Peter Weir, who saw the script as too dark. Instead, he wanted to emphasize the satire of the situation, still holding onto the core existential dread of the concept, but presenting it with a lightness to counter that thematic weight. 

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Movie Review – Fearless (1993)

Fearless (1993)
Written by Rafael Yglesias
Directed by Peter Weir

You wouldn’t be blamed for never having heard of this film. While Green Card was a quiet hit and Weir’s next picture, The Truman Show would prove a massive hit, Fearless is mostly forgotten. It wasn’t lost in a sea of better films. In October 1993, some box office hits were Demolition Man, Cool Runnings, or The Good Son. I would attribute the film’s lack of audience to the fact that Weir dives headfirst into some of the most significant themes of his career, mainly life, death, and human existence. It’s heavy stuff, and Weir handles it so well. You can honestly see him being drawn to more existential material between this and The Truman Show.

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Movie Review – Green Card

Green Card (1991)
Written & Directed by Peter Weir

“Romantic comedy” is not a film genre necessarily associated with Peter Weir. He certainly has romance in his pictures (see The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness), but this particular style of movie just isn’t what you would expect from him. This is one of the few films that Weir both wrote and directed on his own, and it appears to have been inspired by French actor Gerard Depardieu. Weir wanted to bring Depardieu to an English-speaking audience after the actor was already renowned in popular French cinema. The leading male role in Green Card was explicitly written for the performer, but it didn’t propel him to immense fame in the States. It would be received with a mixed reception by the critics, seen mainly as light fare.

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Movie Review – Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society (1989)
Written by Tom Schulman
Directed by Peter Weir

Dead Poets Society was undoubtedly a box office success and garnered much positive acclaim from critics. In college in the early 2000s, I met several people who loved this movie, especially fellow English majors. You might love this movie. I didn’t watch it for the first time until around 2006, and so this was only my second watch, but…this is such a cheesy ass movie, not in a good or charming way. I was astonished that Weir would direct this, and he was working towards making Green Card when Jeffrey Katzenberg reached out to him about Dead Poets Society. I find the movie to be some of the worst examples of maudlin shallow sentiment and a film that began Robin Williams’ path down, making ridiculous pseudo inspirational tripe.

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Movie Review – The Mosquito Coast

The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Written by Paul Schrader
Directed by Peter Weir

Peter Weir was going to make a movie of Paul Theroux’s novel. Weir bought the film rights as soon as it was published in 1981 and was in pre-production when he was sidetracked with Witness. Unlike Witness, a side project for Weir, which gained massive critical and audience acclaim, The Mosquito Coast is considered a box office failure. Even critics were unsure what to make of this very different, bleak film. Harrison Ford was cast completely against type, one of the movie’s most interesting elements. But apparently, moviegoers and critics wanted something less abrasive, so Weir was dealt the first of several blows in the middle part of his career.

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Movie Review – Witness

Witness (1985)
Written by Earl W. Wallace, Pamela Wallace, and William Kelley
Directed by Peter Weir

Peter Weir was in the middle of pre-production work on The Mosquito Coast when backing fell through. He’d return to the project, but Paramount offered him the director’s chair for a picture they had trouble courting someone for. Witness, based on an episode of Gunsmoke, had been circulating in Hollywood for years. It was 182 pages (about 3 hours in movie time) and was critiqued by some executives for focusing too much on the Amish lifestyle rather than the thriller elements. Harrison Ford had already shown interest, so Weir’s first American film was a bit of a gamble but certainly helped by his star’s prominence in the industry.

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Movie Review – Gallipoli (1981)

Gallipoli (1981)
Written by David Williamson & Peter Weir
Directed by Peter Weir

Set around a decade after Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli continues his interest in looking at the so-called “wonder of civilized society.” He does it this time by making a war film that spends a large chunk of its time looking at the characters on their way to the war. His purpose is to examine ideas closely related to white Australian culture that might not be immediately familiar to people outside of the continent. One of these is the idea of ANZAC, the belief that Australians and their cousins in New Zealand possess unique traits that set them apart from their ancestral lands. In many ways, this is the myth of American exceptionalism Down Under. Weir also knows that you cannot talk about war in this era without addressing male friendship and how profound that love can be and how easily it is abused.

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Movie Review – The Last Wave

The Last Wave (1977)
Written by Peter Weir, Tony Morphett, and Petru Popescu
Directed by Peter Weir

Australia has been a land profoundly defined by its colonialist nature. The divide between the descendants of European settlers and the indigenous people is the story at the continent’s core. The Last Wave attempts to examine how even “well-meaning” Australians are simply never going to fully understand the complexity of Aborigine society, and that is simply how it is. This is related to the cultural roots of the settlers in punitive, authoritarian religious movements while the Aborigines live under a much more esoteric system of beliefs. But, more importantly, the film is about how Aborigine spirituality prepares its people far better for the chaotic shifts of the universe than the dogmatic Christian religions.

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