The Railway Man is based on the tragically true story of Eric Lomax, a British Army officer who was captured and tortured mercilessly during his time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the 1940’s. Played confidently by Colin Firth, we first meet the tormented Lomax during a chance encounter with his future wife Patti (a plain and limited Nicole Kidman) at a train station. From their sweet and humble beginnings, the film’s tone (and genre) begin to shift wildly from romance tale, to war story, to revenge flick.
While the film is well intentioned and eventually very moving, with it’s formidable cast and incredibly true story, the power and poignancy of Lomax’s extraordinary journey has been let down down by some meagre and uneven direction from Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man, Better Than Sex, Gettin’ Square). By constantly shifting our perspective and changing track (pun intended), Teplitzky forces the film to become unnecessarily muddled and disjointed, depending far too much on the melodramatic, where cautious restraint was needed instead. While it doesn’t quite derail (pun intended again) the film’s moving climax, it also doesn’t offer viewers the clearest path to emotionally engage and connect.
As you can expect, Firth does some moderate wonders with the stodgy and erratic script, but praise must also be given to Jeremy Irvine who plays the young Lomax and who endures the torturous extremes of his forced labour on the Burma railways. While the film is executed with incessant narrative jumping, its final destination proves to have a rather affecting dramatic weight. Confronting one of his key torturers, Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) who now runs tours of their POW camp, Lomax must choose whether to enact his revenge or forgive a man who was responsible for enabling such atrocities to be inflicted upon himself and his friends.
In spite of my issues with the director’s variable handling of the material, most audiences will be drawn in by the strength of the true story and the cast do elevate the proceedings beyond the limitations of the person at the helm. I also feel that as one of very few Australian releases, the film must be seen in theatres to support our struggling industry.
There is much value to be had here and the film’s final message holds great emotional resonance. It’s just a shame about the haphazardness of its director.