The Railway Man: Movie Review
Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeremy Irvine, Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
The rather nasty side of war gets a face in this adaptation of the autobiography of Eric Lomax.
Colin Firth dons the glasses and takes the role of Lomax, a former British officer who suffered horrifically as a prisoner of war, forced to work on the construction of the Thai / Burma railway (the Death Railway) during the second World War.
Deeply traumatised by these events in 1942, Lomax is one of many Brits unable to open up over what happened; but his world is changed when he meets Nicole Kidman's Patti, on a train and their relationship blossoms into marriage. But the demons of the past come back to haunt Lomax and Patti's determined to help however she can.
The only one who can rid him of the psychological scars is Lomax himself - and when he finds out that his tormentor is still alive, he faces an awful decision - go back and face the past or live with the effects forever.
The Railway Man is haunting and harrowing, but incredibly powerful stuff despite its somewhat plodding nature.
Tonally, it starts off as a slightly quirky and humorous affair as Firth's Lomax meets Patti on the train, with the British humour present and correct as the flirty yet banal banter about England's greyer towns gets underway. But once the marriage is done, the demons, along with the bailiffs, come knocking at the door and the film shifts its focus to a more dour and darker tone as the horrific reality of the Death Railway is told.
Firth is mesmerising in this - going from lively soul to tortured sallow and sagging wreck as the PTSD kicks in; a younger version played by Jeremy Irvine embodies the stiff upper lip mentality so prevalent during the 40s but it's a hard watch seeing him gradually beaten down during the time on the Death Railway.
Teplitzky could have done with easing up on the score during the flashback sequences as the OST is overpowering and unnecessary as the anguished cries and beatings play out in front of you. The tension's built by a screeching soundtrack, rather than crafting together such powerful imagery from the shocking reality of what occurred. Equally, Kidman is empathetic to start with but her character soon becomes surplus to requirements and is there simply to service the narrative as Uncle (Stellan Skarsgard) tells Lomax's story.
But the moment when Lomax finally meets his torturer in modern day is utterly electrifying and you can hear a pin drop in the audience; sure, it's exactly what you'd expect, but it's not until that point that you realise how invested in these characters you are. And the confrontation isn't as clear cut as you'd believe with both Firth and Sanada giving such nuanced and downbeat performances that you simply can't tear your eyes away.
The Railway Man is one of those films which provides a harrowing insight into a world that none of us these days would ever come close to experiencing. It's just a shame that some minor mis-directions in the story telling rob it of the cathartic feel and tone of forgiveness that's required after nearly 2 hours of aching pain. There's no denying its power lies in Firth's portrayal but an easing back from Teplitzky could have given this piece a subtlety that was undeniable. Instead, it simply strives for obvious tonal choices and offers up something which is more fleetingly affecting than haunting you for long after you've left the cinema.