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THE RAILWAY MAN (Review)

railway_manTHE RAILWAY MAN
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard
 
Eric Lomax: It’s not entirely a coincidence

Patricia Wallace: It’s not entirely a surprise.

Jonathan Teplitzky’s THE RAILWAY MAN opens with Colin Firth lying down on the floor, reciting a poem I’m not familiar with. It’s a peculiar opening and, as it doesn’t get much better from there, Firth might have been better off just staying on the floor. The film is based on the true account of how one British officer, who is captured during WWII and tortured by the Japanese, ends up facing one of his captors later in life and is forced to make a decision about whether or not he should let him live or kill him. It’s a good thing Teplitzky (BURNING MAN) announces that the film is rooted in fact at the onset though. If he hadn’t, there is no way I would have believed what I saw. As it is, I’m still not sold.

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The film is based on the published account of the events, as written by the solider himself, Eric Lomax, whom Firth plays in the film. His capture, torture and later experience with one of his captors, is an amazing story but, as it is presented in THE RAILWAY MAN, it is an odd, contrived bore. Instead of focusing on the war from the beginning, Teplitzky gives us a bit of a silly romance to start. Lomax meets Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman, in a thankless role) on a train and there is something of a connection between them right away. It’s a forced connection, mind you, but in no time at all, they’re in love and married. This is when the trouble begins. I’m not sure if Wallace’s presence triggered this, as Teplitzky gives zero explanation, but essentially right after they consummate the marriage, Lomax starts to freeze up and internalize all his emotions as his torture resurfaces to torment him further. It seems bizarre to me that this side of him would have been kept secret from Wallace until that moment. In fact, the very notion that Lomax doesn’t mention it to Wallace ahead of time makes his character seem like he knowingly trapped Wallace into a difficult marriage. This does not exactly inspire sympathy for the man, even though he easily warrants it for what he’s been through.

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Kidman’s character is more a device than a character. Her presence forces Lomax’s history to be retold to her in flashback when she cannot convince her husband to share with her and his need to be happy with her in the go forward forces him to face his demons. It’s all so trite and clunky that by the time Lomax actually returns to the site of his trauma, it feels so plain and obvious that there is no resonance to what should be an incredible catharsis for Lomax. If THE RAILWAY MAN was meant to be a revenge film that hinged on whether or not said revenge was exacted, then the focus should have been just that. At least then, it might have still had some meaning in the end.

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