Craig's First Take: "The Railway Man"

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A victim from World War II's "Death Railway" sets out to find those responsible for his torture. Based on the true story that's detailed in Eric Lomax's autobiography, this 2013 war drama is directed by Jonathan Teplitzky and stars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman & Stellan Skarsgård.
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Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) makes for an excellent traveling companion. The train enthusiast has a shocking memory for all things trains, including their schedules and which ones to take when the one you were originally going to take is canceled. It’s part of his considerable charm, the other part being that Firth just seems like a really noble, gentlemanly guy, that attracts Patti (Nicole Kidman) to him. She’s a tourist traveling through London in the 1980’s, smitten by the former soldier. Both Firth and Kidman have an easy-going, romantic chemistry here that makes their eventual marriage seem almost inevitable.

Based off Lomax’s own autobiography, “The Railway Man” is not, in fact, a romantic train movie but a far darker and disturbing tale of being a POW during World War 2. I’m not sure if men’s fear of commitment is supposed to play in here or not but basically Eric marries Patti and then begins having violent flashbacks to 1942 again when he was imprisoned in an internment camp by the Japanese. He is confused and whilst dating was a dream for the couple, marriage becomes a nightmare. Other than divorce him, Patti wants to help, but Eric has decided to go about it in the manly way- bury it deep under mounds and mounds of anger. Patti stays steadfast, but sadly Kidman does not. She disappears for most of the second half of the film.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky’s movie goes back and forth between Eric’s life in 1980 and his imprisonment in 1942, where he and the rest of his British engineers and co-horts were made to suffer beatings, malnutrition, water-boarding, and various other tortures until they were but shells of their former selves. “Bridge over the River Kwai” did the best at handling this type of story but that doesn’t make any of it less of a nightmarish scenario. Jeremy Irvine, from “War Horse”, also does a terrific job with this material as the young Eric.

However where we’re headed with all this is fairly straight-forward. Eric, we know, has somehow escaped his captors and in the 80’s learns that the man who did a good part of the torturing is still alive. It’s a collision course that would have been far more powerful had the film been more about the two men meeting and showing us how they got to the place that their relationship eventually ended up. The emotional scars of war is a heavy theme here, something Firth does an excellent job with, but then the film turns to white-washing without much explanation as to how forgiveness can be reached. It also could have been more interesting to see how Eric coped with his adult life after the war ended. But while “The Railway Man” isn’t perfect, its cast is terrific and it dramatizes much of Lomax’s situation well enough to hold interest.