“The Railway Man” (2013)
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) has a chance encounter with a beautiful woman, Patti (Nicole Kidman), on a train traveling across the English countryside. As they converse about the history of the towns they are passing, a spark is ignited between the two. Eric reluctantly leaves the Patti when the train arrives at his destination. Meeting his fellow war veterans at a bar, he gets their advice and decides to track down Patti, knowing that she will be arriving back in town by train later in the week. They meet at the station and both know this is too big a thing to pass up. And so starts the film “The Railway Man.”
Lomax has a very painful past, one that he isn’t willing or able to share with Patti. During World War II, he was a prisoner of war, held captive by the Japanese in a labor camp. Their job, to build the Thai/Burma railroad (the same railroad depicted in the 1957 Academy Award winning film “The Bridge on the River Kwai). The Japanese want to build a railroad deemed by the British a few years earlier, too costly in men’s lives to try. Lomax is so scared by the memories and experiences as a POW that it affects not only his everyday life but also his relationship with Patti.
The film is based on the bestselling autobiography by Eric Lomax and moves back and forth from his relationship with Patti in 1980 to flashbacks of his life in the labor camp. Colin Firth gives a moving performance of a man who can’t escape his past. Firth is able to work with silence so well, letting his face and his body language gives us all the information we need to know that Eric is a troubled soul. Nicole Kidman is sensational as the put upon Patti, who struggles to deal with Eric’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even though she was a nurse for 20 years, Patti doesn’t know how to support or reach Eric. Kidman allows us to sympathize with Patti, investing us in their relationship and making us want for it to work out.
While Kidman and Firth give excellent performances, the performance to watch is the one that Jeremy Irvine gives as the younger Eric. Irvine is one of those actors who when he appears on the screen, you instantly like him. Irvine gives us an Eric that is far braver than his young appearance and seemingly easy going manner projects. His scenes in the labor camp, especially ones where he is being beaten by his Japanese captors are intense and amazing to watch, making those scenes the best part of the film. Irvine also makes us believe that he is a younger version of Firth.
As fine as the acting is “The Railway Man” they can’t overcome a script, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, that has a rather jarring timeline, switching at a moment’s notice from 1980 to the POW labor camp. I think I would have enjoyed the film more if it hadn’t gone back and forth so much. It made the scenes between Kidman and Firth seem far less important than they really were, mostly because they were far less intense than the POW scenes.
The cinematography by Garry Phillips does an excellent job contrasting the rainy, haunting gray English coast with the sticky, hot jungles of Thailand, making the POW scenes seem very real and stark. Director Jonathan Teplitzky gets all he can from the weak script but the film ultimately isn’t as touching and moving as you want it to be. Overall, it’s a good film, with a great performance by Jeremy Irving, that shows love and compassion can overcome just about everything, including man’s inhumanity to man. It’s just not the great film that it’s subject matter deserved. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
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“The Railway Man” is currently playing in select theatres in Atlanta.