The Railway Man (2013)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

Australia/United Kingdom/Switzerland, 2013, , , , , .  Screenplay by , based on the book by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , Andy Paterson.  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Toronto International Film Festival 2013.

After meeting on a train, former nurse Nicole Kidman falls madly in love with train enthusiast and World War II veteran Colin Firth and feels no hesitation when he asks for her hand in marriage. After the nuptials, Firth’s behavior exhibits signs of past trauma that turns out to be the residual effects of horrific past experiences which he refuses to discuss with her. Desperate to prevent his being cut off from her permanently, she interrogates his war buddy () and discovers that they were both prisoners of war under the Japanese, forced to help build the Thai-Burma Railway and tortured by members of the Kempetai. Flashbacks reveal details of the men’s experiences when, played by  and , they were tortured by their captors after it was discovered that they had built a radio that connected them to the outside world. Firth/Irvine becomes the target of magnificent abuse by , who is purportedly just a translator for his superiors.  Years later, Firth learns to his horror that his torturer (now played by ) is still alive and conducting a tourist operation on the very railroad he helped build, having saved himself from trials as a war criminal by insisting he was only a translator. The story switches from Kidman’s to Firth’s perspective as he travels to Thailand to find a demon from his past and confront him with what he intends will be a vengeance to be reckoned with. Beautiful photography and a marvelously intelligent performance from Kidman, who refuses to ever get unnecessarily sentimental, are the highlights of a very powerful true story of redemption, based on the autobiography of Eric Lomax. There’s too much here for one story to handle, the film really deserves to be a miniseries or something epic in length considering the themes it accomplishes (and there’s no doubt that director Jonathan Teplitzky could handle the weight of something larger), but what really sticks a pin in the otherwise taught balloon is that Firth is undeniably miscast as a sixty-plus veteran who is supposed to be seventeen years senior to his wife (and actually second wife, as Lomax’s first wife and children are nowhere to be found here). The actor spends the whole film looking terrified that he’ll be found out as the wrong man to tell the story, having become a stock figure, one whose personality is mined in films less and less as time goes on in favour of appealing as a romantic fantasy type to draw audiences in (he needs to just get old so that directors will actually let him have charisma again).  The most moving parts of the film to be found in Sanada’s deeply soul-stirring performance, and in the photos displayed over the end credits.

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