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The Railway Man

November 12, 2014

The Railway Man (2013)
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Actors: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine

hinh_anh_the_railway_man__200x200_74.jpg (200×133)

Synopsis: Eric Lomax is a Second World War veteran who in his middle-aged years finally seems to have found happiness when he meets – and ultimately marries – Patti (Nicole Kidman) during one of his obsessive trainspotting jollies. Eric’s repressed war trauma soon begins to unsettle the marriage, so Patti seeks out fellow veterans for an insight into Eric’s war history. Eventually Eric is able to engineer a surprise meeting with his Japanese torturer in Thailand – who now makes a living as a tourist guide there…

Review: True story it may be, but this timid, predictable and borderline morally dubious film does little favours to the specific personal history of British Second World War veteran, Eric Lomax, or the familiar overarching subject matter of the Japanese torture of British POWs during that conflict.

It’s a thoroughly dispiriting ‘middlebrow’ production, whereby the focus on the sanctity of austere British nobility is reflected in the bleak and subdued Eighties period palette and the casting of Colin Firth in the major role (one would assume the producers based much of their commercial and storytelling strategy on the recent success of Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech which shared an identical look, ethos and leading man). Incidentally, you have to question the producers’ fidelity to the integrity of the subject matter, when the best casting solution they can find for Lomax’s doting younger wife is none other than the strangely pristine and unhuman Nicole Kidman. The orthodoxy of The Railway Man’s artillery is completed by the oh-so familiar trope of a present-day trauma seguing into explanatory wartime flashbacks, and the predictable move into third act resolution and catharsis.

That third act catharsis is eminently predictable from the main wartime scenes of a younger Lomax getting systematically brutalised by a vicious cipher of a Japanese guard, and the film’s attempt at moral equivalence when Lomax seems destined to act a ‘fitting’ revenge on his old captor (before the predictable backing-off to preserve Lomax’s inherent decency) feels not only a touch petty and vindictive with its lurch into genre machinations, but also incredibly didactic. The final, hugely expository nods to reconciliation are no doubt designed to make sure that this is a film which can not only find a mainstream audience, but also feed into the present trend for the reverent sanitising and sermonising of many of the episodes of the Second World War – the treatment of British POWs in Burma and Thailand being just one of these. (November 2014)

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