Cinema Review: The Railway Man | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, November 29th, 2020  

The Railway Man

Studio: The Weinstein Company
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky

Apr 15, 2014 Web Exclusive
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The Railway Man begins innocently on a train car in north England, where handsome, withdrawn Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) catches the eye of Patti (Nicole Kidman). He happens to be a train nut and manages to charm her with an acute knowledge of timetables, which he later utilizes to secure another “chance” encounter. They start a relationship that accelerates quickly into marriage, but it isn’t long until Patti realizes he suffers from PTSD from WWII. The attacks are improbable, debilitating, and frustrating, as he keeps them completely locked away. Through one of his fellow veterans (Stellan Skarsgaard), she endeavors to learn about their experience as Japanese POWs forced into slave labor along the Thai-Burma Railway.

The majority of the film draws on Lomax’s real-life experiences in the war, conveying a situation not unlike The Bridge on the River Kwai that strives for hyperrealism. The young Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) draws on his knowledge to paint a dire situation: during peacetime, the British considered building the 250-mile railway, but ultimately decided not to, as the terrain would create inhumane working conditions. (Indeed, of nearly quarter million slave laborers, over one hundred thousand would perish). As they work and fight to survive, Lomax and the other workers decide to construct a radio to hear the progress of the war, if only to give them hope. They succeed in doing both but are discovered by the Japanese, who don’t believe the radio was created just for spiritual purposes. They decide to beat the truth out of Lomax, creating scars that would last a lifetime.

The Railway Man is an ambitious, well-intentioned film plagued by flat, predictable storytelling. The issue is simple: no matter how poorly Lomax is treated, the fact that he survives guarantees a limit to his suffering. Thus, his situation under the Japanese worsens only in microscopic increments. One beating in particular—which the film suggests is the root of his inner turmoil—feels hopelessly redundant. These scenes may have carried more tension had the Japanese guards seemed capable of more than beating and screaming. Yes, Japanese sadism in WWII is well documented, but compared to Kwai’s calculating Colonel Saito, these guards are evil caricatures whose didacticism somehow makes them less menacing.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-looking pair than Firth and Kidman, and yet, the two manage to exude a quiet attraction and support, creating a connection that feels worth saving. Unfortunately, the romance is only a fraction of the narrative and—in its sheer existence—serves to paralyze the remainder.

Author rating: 4/10

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Average reader rating: 4/10


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