Review: The Railway Man

By Jennifer Brundle

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård.
UK Release Date: 10 Jan 2014
Australia/UK 2013. 116 mins.

Eric Lomax (Colin Firth & Jeremy Irvine), haunted by his time spent as a prisoner of war by the Japanese during the second world war, occupies most of his time to distract him by riding the trains around the UK. He meets sweet Patti (Nicole Kidman) on one of his journeys and whilst their romance ensues, Lomax’s past just cannot escape him and he is left struggling over whether he should visit his previous captor or slowly destroy the precious relationship with Patti.

tumblr_inline_mzv3mcFCQh1rtuwo6After a compelling trailer was released, this film with Colin Firth at the helm had a whisper of award potential. True enough, Firth and and Irvine hold this film together with their superbly believable performance of old and young Lomax respectively. It is believable that they are the same person where one lives the experiences whilst the other is tormented by them: from their matching mannerisms to their voices.

It is a shame that Lomax’s later portrayal of his psychological fear of the past and his deteriorating mental health is pretty much glossed over, with just the occasional snap, yell or scream to remind us. It’s not trying to be subtle: it’s hardly there to even try to be. This is a part of Lomax that is left hanging and one that needs more exploration. Yes, Lomax is a scarred war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress, but touching on the psychology is much more interesting than his little romance with Patti.

This is where the film drops below standard: Nicole Kidman as Patti is expressionless, bland and monosyllabic. She attempts to be compassionate but each tear that twinkles in her eye is unconvincing. Her whirlwind love story with Lomax is swift: they’ve just met on the train and next they’re getting married. Whilst it’s sweet, it does feel that the casting was completely off as Kidman really let the portrayal of Patti down along with the plain and simple lines in the script.

One can’t help but yearn for the flashbacks to when young Lomax was held captive. We see a different tale from the Second World War archive which is a subject that has been done before, twice over. However here is a young man who is intelligent and sharp but by no means a fighter, yet he tries to survive in conditions that can only be compared with slavery. His innocence is a direct contrast to the grief-stricken man he becomes but as the story into the past continues, his naivety falls away into acceptance by a wonderful performance by Irvine. He is beaten and tortured in an uncomfortable scene that could be hard to watch for some. This leaves the film with a split personality: from a delicate romance to a dark war tale. Whilst many within the war genre get the balance right, this film is almost like watching two separate features that don’t fit together. The war flashbacks could’ve been darker without glorifying violence, and felt very safe without taking any risks.

Stellan Skarsgård is another well-known cast member who sadly also lets the film down. The younger version of himself is British, with a British accent, yet the older version portrayed by Skarsgård is Swedish with an American accent: he doesn’t even try to hide it. This is a great shame as during the flashbacks it is unclear as to who he is as the casting is well off and eventually there is not enough emotional attachment to warrant a response to what happens to him.

When Lomax and Nagase are finally reunited, the scene between them flicks to the past and present and makes for some compelling viewing: it is the highlight of the film. It’s incredibly tense, believable and tricks you into doubting who’s side you are on. Both are trying to atone for what they’ve done and experienced in their own way: and the resolution between them is heartfelt which will move many viewers.

Despite what one would think is a superb cast, the film is disappointing and does not live up to expectations, but has so much potential. It’s torn between a soppy romance and a gritty war movie. A shame it couldn’t make up its mind.

2/5

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