Movie Review: The Railway Man
Justin Morales wrote this review 2 years and 8 months ago
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård
Release Date: April 11, 2014
No one knows trains like Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) does. He can tell you where a train is going, where it was made, the name of the route, the name of all the stations it will pass and what train to connect to even if you missed the train you needed. That last example is exactly how he ran into the beautiful Patti (Nicole Kidman) who would later become his wife – well not before shaving his mustache.
Patti later finds out that her husband is a broken man due to the time he served in World War II and is willing to pick up the pieces. But does she know the full extent of the damage done to Eric? The year is 1942 and young Eric (Jeremy Irvine), a signals officer, is ordered to surrender with the rest of his unit to the Japanese Imperial Army. They are sent to build what would later become the Burma Railway, a railway route between Thailand and Burma, with thousands of other prisoners of war. Making a railway is hard and tedious work to begin with, throughout the history of railways usually slaves are the ones who are left to do the construction, but not this time.The Burma Railway was once thought of being constructed by the British government of Burma in the past but they thought it would be too difficult to be built as they felt many men would die in the process and those who didn’t would of wished they had, and that wasn’t a risk they were willing to take.
Lomax and his unit are saved from the brutal physical work and used for their engineering skills instead. But Lomax will soon find out his life would not be any easier. He endures unimaginable torments at the hands of a young Nagase Takashi (Tanroh Ishida), a Japanese intelligence officer. Lomax is scarred from the events that happen during this time and it is Patti’s duty to help Eric come to peace with his past and stop pushing his wife away.
The Railway Man had great potential with a great cast of Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård and Hiroyuki Sanada but director Jonathan Teplitzky fails to tap into this potential as there were many problems I came across in the film. The film starts off as a romance of sorts with Eric meeting Patti on the train and instantly wanting to see her again when he gets off the train. Eric even goes to the extent of train watching, hoping he will run into her again. Fortunately for Eric, he runs into her and they start dating from then on. Throughout this whole dating period all the way up to their wedding we never get a glimpse of Eric battling the dark memories from his war days. In fact we don’t see much of how he is truly affected until AFTER his wedding. This brings up the question, did Patti suppress those dark memories? Possibly, but when the memories come back to haunt him, he pushes Patti away. What was different with Eric before and after the wedding? A question that was never answered.
The Railway Man is based on Eric Lomax’s autobiography of the same name. Although I have yet to read the novel, you can grasp that the book goes into more detail than the film, but you don’t get to feel the humidity or heat of the jungle. We SEE the prisoners of war look famish but we don’t FEEL that unbearable heat they are living under. As for the Japanese soldiers, despite the scenes where they demonstrate their cruelty, fear is never instilled in you. Their were many scenes where Lomax did something against command or would interfere with other workers and the soldiers would leave them alone unpunished besides a quick yell in a foreign language.
One thing that made understanding the story challenging was the technique of using present day Eric as the story telling device, this made separating the flashbacks from the Burma Railway and the memories from a weathered and tortured Eric difficult to differentiate. When this method of story telling is used correctly, the building of tension and plot revealing points are done wonderfully, unfortunately this is not the case with The Railway Man. So much time is spent in bland, dull Britain at a dismally slow pace that any tension that is built up within the flashback dies out, killing any and all momentum. This also hurts the feelings drawn from the characters as well. When you begin to grow attachment to young Lomax and the abuse he is going through, the flashback ends and you’re back to dull modern day Lomax in which you don’t grow as strong of a connection with.
On the other hand, the acting done by Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine was the true highlight of the film. Both Firth and Irvine capture the emotional and mental damage done to Eric throughout his life. Especially in the scene where Firth is trembling on the bedroom floor, trapped again in a nightmare he can never shake. Irvine’s younger version of Eric portrays the full passion play of abuse: beaten, wasted and still filled with honor to tell them anything but the truth.
Overall, The Railway Man falls short of expectation. I recommend passing on this movie when it hits theaters but when given the opportunity to see the film via Netflix or on TV, you should sit down and give the film a shot. The performances done by Firth and Irvine are something you definitely should not miss.