Blogs » FLIX! » Review: The Railway Man (2014) moving WWII film based on a best selling autobiography



THE RAILWAY MAN (2014) Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård, Hiroyuki Sanada, Sam Reid, Tanroh Ishida. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky

Scotland in the 80's is where we are first introduced to Eric Lomax played by Colin Firth. He has always loved trains and so he considers himself a railway enthusiast, and it's on a train where he meets his future wife Patti played by Nicole Kidman. Eric happens to take the seat across from her and the two strike up a conversation. At first he's quiet, reserved, and a little standoffish but since the subject is trains, Eric begins to loosen up and the two enjoy a nice chat during their ride. They fall in love, get married and soon thereafter Patti realizes that Eric is plagued by night terrors and mood swings. When she tries to help, he refuses to open up and talk about his situation. Patti then turns to his friends, pleading for an explanation, and Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) begins to tell her their story which is shown in a series of flashbacks.

In 1942, Eric and Finlay, officers in the British Army (their younger selves played by Jeremy Irvine and Sam Reid), along with the rest of the squad were captured by Japanese forces during World War II. They were sent to a P.O.W. camp and forced to work building the Thai-Burma railroad, also known as the "death railway" which later inspired the movie "Bridge On The River Kwai". During their captivity Lomax was singled out and tortured repeatedly for building a radio. The Japanese thought he was trying to build a transmitter to communicate with the enemy but it was only a receiver used to catch broadcasts by the BBC.

The movie jumps back and forth between WWII and the present day eighties and it's in the present that Finlay reveals that the man responsible for Eric's torture, Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), is still alive and working as a curator at the old P.O.W. camp which has been turned into a wartime museum. Eric decides he must go back to confront his past and the man responsible for the demons he's been living with the last forty years.

The film is based on the bestselling autobiography of the same name by Eric Lomax who passed away in 2012. The movie was made with the consent of his wife Patti. I would have enjoyed more screen time for Firth and Kidman who turn out solid performances, the flashback scenes are lengthy but essential to the story, there were a couple of times that I was reminded of the excellent film "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" with David Bowie (1983). The supporting cast is good, Stellan Skarsgård is solid in anything he does, and actor Hiroyuki Sanada puts in a powerful and emotional performance. His scenes with Colin Firth are compelling and the highlight of the movie. The Railway Man is a moving story told on many levels, love, redemption, and forgiveness.

(3 1/2 stars)

*Opens Friday 4/25 at the Sundance Cinema (Houston)

reviewed April 23, 2014