The Railway Man-Review
By Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
Of all the wars over the last 100 years, few have stood apart like that of World War II. With Adolph Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish population, and the world rising up to battle this atrocity, World War II left a lasting impression with its shear acts of violence and hate, heroism and resilience. But World War II was also fought on other fronts, with Japan being an ally of Germany. We know of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombings of Japan, but less is mentioned about the Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway. Director Jonathon Teplitzky brings us The Railway Man, based on the autobiography by Eric Lomax.
We meet Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) as a middle-aged British military veteran. A quiet man, he meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train while in route to visit some other military veterans. He leaves her on the train and immediately realizes he must find her, which later ends up with their marriage. Patti learns about his military time, but the true horrors of what happened when he was captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the “Death Railway” never leave him. Patti seeks out another prisoner of war (POW) friend, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), to learn what really happened to Eric. But Finlay only knows so much, and Eric never told him about the true horrors that would happen when he would be taken into the pit for days at a time. But when Finlay finds that the Japanese translator, Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), who interrogated him and oversaw his torture, is still alive and running a war museum in Japan, he gives Lomax the information needed to finally put his demons to rest.
Colin Firth portrays the role of Eric Lomax as we may envision most soldiers who return from the horrors of war and never want to speak about what they truly experienced. He portrays the quiet and strong man who is internally still at war with the memories of his experiences, which in turn extend into his personal life. Nicole Kidman’s talents feel a little wasted in this effort as she is more of an ear to listen and has no real power to help her husband. She merely gathers all the information she can and tries to provide what little comfort she can for her husband as his own private World War II continues to be fought within the complexity of his psyche. Stellan Skarsgard, as Finlay, also takes a step back in his role as this film is really about Eric. Skarsgard adequately portrays the veteran who tries to put a smile on his face and enjoy the day, but is more of a waking dead after all he endured during his time working on the railway. And Hiroyuki Sanada comes in towards the end but gives an impressive turn as a man fighting his own demons but from a different perspective: that of a man who knows he did wrong and can’t take it back.
The Railway Man doesn’t shy away from the brutality of what it was like to work as a POW along this railway. Strong, proud men are broken down physically and mentally leaving but a shell of a man. The Japanese taking out the leadership of the British military, essentially cutting out the will of the British POWs until they were left with mindless workers to build their railway to support their own forces during the war. The torture sequences are what we would expect from this war time era and we are physically brought in to the world of Eric, knowing he is giving the Japanese the correct answers while never compromising his military brothers or the war. And Eric realizes that no matter how much he tells the truth, the reality is, the Japanese will not believe it, and he will continue to be tortured until either he dies or the war ends.
There are so many stories that have come out from World War II, and many deserve to have their time on screen. The Railway Man received its due and I don’t think it could have been done any better. With an all-star cast on screen, the true story of Eric Lomax has been brought forth for everyone to experience. The story paces itself evenly, ratcheting up the emotion and intensity during the final act of the film, and may leave you shedding a tear or two. But when true stories are told, and the performances do the content justice, such emotion will arise. As one of the characters says, “war leaves a mark”, and the mark this film leaves on humanity serves as a lesson for all.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars