In Firth We Trust. Where it lacks in pace and story, The Railway Man delivers with sheer emotion and performance.
A former British Army officer (Colin Firth), who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labor camp during World War II, discovers that the man responsible (Hiroyuki Sanada) for much of his treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him.
A somewhat corny opening felt like something out of Love Actually with Firth’s trainspotter Eric relentlessly skimming through a train time table, trying to find the nice woman (Nicole Kidman) he met on the train. It sets the film off on an easy going and light pace as the pair reunite. The chemistry bubbling away. We follow the cliched montage of dates as their romance blossoms. BUT before we know it and within a few frames, Eric and Patti have eloped
Patt is soon introduced to Eric’s home and his fellow veterans. Most notably, the wasted if very talented Stellan Skarsgaard as Finlay. It’s only after they’re married that Eric’s behaviour changes. Erratic mood swings one moment. Hostile confrontations the next.
Patti is soon petrified of the man she fell in love with. Not truly knowing who he really is. Afraid of losing Patti, Eric tells her that he was once a prisoner of war. Firth’s performance was fantastic. He doesn’t even have to speak and you feel for the man with his sullen expressions. However, when asked about his past, Eric shuts down, desperate to change the subject. Concerned, Patti seeks the truth from Finlay, triggering flashbacks to their unit’s capture by the Japanese.
Beautifully shot and delicately dealt with. We soon see that Lomax’s fascination with trains is ironically tied to their torturous campaign to build the railway. The railway that would be featured in another war movie. The vastly superior Bridge on the River Kwai. If you’re expecting a similar film, then you might be disappointed. This story is about one man trying to move on and forgive.
Kidman and Skarsgasrd play their parts well BUT they were heavily underused. The story was always going to revolve around Eric and his captor Nagase (the underrated Hiroyuki Sanada). The pair were pushed very much into the background. A waste. To be honest, any one could have played them.
It took some time for the film to get going and once the war flashbacks began, this is where it really shone with a young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) trying to keep up morale while suffering severe torture. Johnathan Teplitzky examined Eric’s treatment delicately. It wasn’t unnecessarily graphic BUT you got the idea and felt for the poor soldier as every punch was thrown and bone broken.
The third act really piqued my interest when Eric finally met Nagase at the very POW camp 30 years later. A site of pain and suffering now a tourism hotspot for his tormentor and captor to make a quick buck as a guide. The suspense and tension was brilliantly executed. It allowed for an unexpected BUT incredibly emotional finale.
Firth and Sanada were fantastic together and the last five minutes was almost worth the ticket price alone. I was surprised that no one received award nods during it’s initial release. The film may have stumbled along in parts and the pace may have been questionable BUT it still hit home what these men went through.
I can’t make comparisons to the bestselling novel BUT it has definitely made me want to read it. Brilliantly shot and brilliantly acted, this is one little drama that is worth your attention.