In The Railway Man, Colin Firth effectively exudes angst as a tortured WWII Prisoner of War.
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) served as a signals officer in the British Army during World War II. His unit was dispatched to the Pacific theater where it was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in 1942.
The captured group soon joined 60,000+ POWs and they were subsequently forced to build the Burma Railway that stretched from Bangkok to Rangoon. This 258-mile construction came to be known as the Death Railway, because 6,318 of Lomax’s fellow Brits and many others died, all pressed into slave labor by their barbaric captors.
The grueling ordeal of the building of this rail link has been seen on the big screen before, most notably in The Bridge on the River Kwai. That Academy Award-winning classic starred Sir Alec Guinness, and it swept the Oscars in 1958. The Bridge on the River Kwai was a fictional adventure that revolved around the daring exploits of heroic saboteurs who faced overwhelming odds.
The Railway Man is much more introspective. This poignant character study is based on Lomax’s moving memoir of the same name. And although he survived the war, he remained mentally scarred long after his physical wounds healed.
Eric Lomax, like many others, was subjected to unspeakable torture ranging from brutal beatings to waterboarding, especially at the direction of one particularly-sadistic interrogator, Nagase Takeshi, played by Tanroh Ishida. Eric had aroused the suspicion of the Japanese when he was caught with detailed drawings of sections of the railroad on which he was working.
Lomax had always been fascinated by trains while growing up in Edinburgh and sketched similar maps throughout his childhood. The frustrated Nagase suspected otherwise, and the punishment of Lomax escalated.
Like many others, after the cessation of hostilities, Lomax returned home a broken man.
Although he was able to commiserate with former platoon mates at the veterans club, the memories of Burma haunted him and he was unable to readjust to civilian life.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (Better than Sex), The Railway Man is a heartrending, flashback flick set both during World War II and in 1980, when Lomax’s loyal wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman), urges him to track down Nagase. Her hope is that a meeting might help her traumatized husband exorcise his demons and thereby recover from his severe psychological afflictions.
Eric’s ensuing sojourn back to the Orient inexorably leads to a confrontation with the tormentor whose face he’s never been able to erase from his mind over the intervening decades. But the question is whether he’ll be able to resist the desire for revenge in favor of reconciliation.
This film is a remarkable illustration of the human capacity to find peace through forgiveness.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for disturbing violence
Running time: 116 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company