A traumatised World War II veteran is prompted by his best friend and his new wife to find and confront his torturer.
Jonathan Teplitzky, 2013
War vet and train enthusiast Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) leans a lonely life until he meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train and falls in love. They get married not long after, and Patti discovers that Eric still suffers post-traumatic stress from his time in the war. She goes to his best friend and fellow vet Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) to find out the truth of Eric’s past – and we flash back to World War II, when Eric, Finlay, and their troop were taken as war prisoners by the Japanese. Young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) was forced to build the Thai-Burma railway, but using their engineering know-how, he and his fellow soldiers decide to build a radio. The ensuing torture scarred Eric for life, so Finlay and Patti decide to encourage Eric to find the man who tortured him, Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), now working as a tour guide at the war museum on the site of the old prisoner camp.
Don’t be fooled by the gentle, romantic drama-esque poster, this is an incredibly brutal film. The flashback scenes are full of torture and violence, but the emotional violence of the scenes set later in Lomax’s life is equally disturbing. There’s a strange amount of mood whiplash between the moody, blue post-war scenes and the contrasty, bright war scenes that the film never quite carries off. It does look pretty, using the contradictory scenery of English beaches and Asian jungles effectively. I can’t help feeling like this is mostly well-acted and well-meaning ground that has been trod before, though perhaps not quite like this. It does have the benefit of being based on a true story, and the message of forgiveness and redemption is hard-won but ultimately affecting. The amount of time devoted to showing the brutality against young Eric is questionable – what are they trying to do to the audience here? It’s not like torture porn horror, which punishes the audience for being complicit in it. It also doesn’t serve the purpose of the violence in 12 Years a Slave, which points an accusing finger at everyone ignoring the history of racism. It seems to only say “look, war is bad”, which we know.
Jeremy Irvine, the actor who plays the young Eric Lomax, hits the ball so far out of the park it’s in another galaxy with his protrayal of a young soldier. He’s brave, scared, defiant, broken, and fascinating (and a remarkable match for the real Lomax). Colin Firth gets to pull some new tricks out of an old bag, and is quite scary and imposing in some scenes. Hiroyuki Sanada is an underrated actor that I generally enjoy, and he is excellent here. Nicole Kidman is…alright, as is Stellan Skarsgard, but both highlight the disparity between the timelines as their performances don’t seem to fit the film as well as the others. The film is emotionally draining, and while the mystery element is done well, it seems they could have devoted a little more time to the forgiveness and a little less to brutal torture scenes.
The Railway Man on IMDb