May 27, 2018

Film: The Railway Man Gets Off Track


Teplitzky and Co. miss the mark of a great man.


Film: <i>The Railway Man</i> Gets Off Track

Hiroyuki Sanada and Colin Firth star in The Railway Man.

A man enduring catharsis and ultimately receiving closure from a war that still haunts him make for high drama. Saving Private Ryan, Zero Dark Thirty, and Lone Survivor bring war to the audience in such an adrenalized, first-person view that it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. It’s the slow burn of decades of trauma that work for and against The Railway Man.

Based on the bestselling autobiography, Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is a British prisoner of war at a Japanese labor camp during World War II. Decades later, Lomax discovers that his tormentor is still alive and sets out to confront him. That past haunts them both.

Unfortunately, director Jonathan Teplitzky squanders the story on paper and the action on screen. The biggest offense has to be Lomax seeking revenge on his tormentor, whereas, in reality, correspondence led to an eventual meeting and subsequent friendship between the two.

This glaring omission cannot be undersold as it changes the context of the film and what really happened, which is intriguing in and of itself. There is no point in celebrating the life of Eric Lomax in film with an even more pointed tribute at the end of said film if you’re going to change what actually happened. Teplitzky and screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson either didn’t trust the audience to appreciate the nuance and drama of the real story or didn’t know how to capture the proper moment.

Firth has mentioned, “I think what is not often addressed is the effect over time. We do sometimes see stories about what it’s like coming home from war; we very rarely see stories about what it’s like decades later.”

Drama for the sake of drama is completely unnecessary when all parties had such a rich palette to work with. The existentialist thought that one never leaves the war and its effects are everlasting, is one worth contemplating. Not doing it here is a completely missed opportunity.

Firth doesn’t help his cause and he mistakes being a tortured soul for being wooden. By the time the drama ramps up, the audience has checked out. This is a sad turn for Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard as well. The chemistry level between Firth and Kidman is like watching Barbie and Ken trying to show emotion. Kidman remains a passenger while Skarsgard is wasted by solely being a plot device. If Hollywood were fair (stop laughing), Jeremy Irvine, Sam Reid and Hiroyuki Sanada would receive top billing for doing all the heavy lifting.

The Railway Man misses the point of Lomax’s struggle and dramatic filmmaking. Wait for this on DVR.