Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård, Tanroh Ishida, Sam Reid
In any given year, there are a couple of war themed movies released. They tend to be focused on stories set inside the trenches as the soldiers are fighting for their country. The Railway Man offers a look not only at the events of the war, but also the impact it had on one individual for the rest of his life. Eric Lomax (Firth) has been fascinated with trains and railway maps his whole life. One day while riding the train, he strikes up conversation with Patti (Kidman) and she becomes smitten with his eccentric personality. They eventually marry, even though she was not aware of his past. As a young man, he was a British officer who became a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. Their marriage starts to unravel when Patti realizes the psychological affects Eric’s past has had on him.
He has a hard time opening up to her and his best friend Finlay (Skarsgard), who also was a POW, about the torture he had endured. During his time in the camp, he (now played by Jeremy Irvine) was captured and tortured after being caught building a radio to listen in on the events of the war. The Japanese soldiers subjected him to extreme torture methods believing he was transmitting secrets and information. Fifty years have passed, and Eric learns that Takashi Nagase (Sanada), one of his captors, is still alive and now running a museum on the same grounds of the prison camp. With the help and guidance of Patti and Finlay, he finally goes to confront Nagase and the haunting past he has not been able to overcome.
The film is based on the remarkable true story as told by Eric Lomax in his memoir of the same name. The story goes back and forth between the time Eric spent in the war and Eric’s life as an adult unable to move on from his past. There is a slow and steady build up of tension until it is revealed what exactly he went through at the hands of Nagase and the other Japanese officials. I think director Jonathan Teplitzky purposefully chose this idea of a slow burn in regard to the pacing, but it will inevitably deter some moviegoers who prefer a fast-paced, nail-biting ride. While there are some extremely violent scenes, this is more of a character focus than a look at the brutality of war.
Colin Firth is one of those actors who can speak volumes with just a simple look on his face. I like to call that “eye acting”. There are quite a few moments when the camera is still and captures him reflecting on his past. Firth mentioned in an interview that he is drawn to these types of characters who have difficulties with communication. Firth shows control and restraint with his facial expressions, yet behind his eyes, you can see all of that bottled up anger, frustration, and fear that is festering inside of him. We first saw Jeremy Irvine in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. He is quite impressive here as the Young Eric as it is a physically demanding part with all of the torture scenes involved. I hope producers take note of Irvine and continue to cast him. He is the kind of young actor who should be on people’s radar, and hopefully future projects will get him there. Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard are strong in small, but vital roles. I wish Kidman would have been given more as her character seems to be such an important part of Lomax’s journey.
We don’t see many movies made about the effects war has on its soldiers. I find these character studies to be important teaching tools about the war. As you watch Eric Lomax’s story, you continue to question if he will seek revenge on his captor or somehow become the stronger man and forgive Nagase. It’s hard not to think about what you would do if you were in his shoes.
Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes, even though it is currently in limited release, I hope it reaches a wider audience, as it’s an important reflection on the effects of being a prisoner of war.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Ticket Stubs