“The Railway Man”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for disturbing violence
Running time: 116 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
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.
They soon joined the 60,000+ POWs subsequently forced to build the Burma Railway stretching from Bangkok to Rangoon. The Allies came to call the 258-mile construction the Death Railway, because so many soldiers perished along the way, including 6,318 of Lomax’s fellow Brits pressed into slave labor by their barbaric captors.
Their grueling ordeal has been brought to the big screen before, most notably in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” the Academy Award-winning classic starring Sir Alec Guinness which swept the Oscars in 1958. That fictional adventure revolved around the daring exploits of some heroic saboteurs in the face of overwhelming odds.
By contrast, “The Railway Man” is a relatively-introspective affair. 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.
For, he had been subjected to unspeakable torture ranging from brutal beatings to waterboarding, especially at the direction of one particularly-sadistic interrogator, Nagase Takeshi (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.
Truth be told, he’d always been fascinated by trains while growing up in Edinburgh and had sketched such maps throughout childhood. But since the frustrated Nagase still suspected otherwise, the punishment only escalated.
Upon the cessation of hostilities, Lomax returned home a broken man unable to readjust to civilian life. Sure, he could commiserate with former platoon mates at the veterans club, yet the memories of Burma nevertheless continued to haunt him.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (Better than Sex), The Railway Man is a heartrending, flashback flick set both during World War II and in 1980 which is 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.
A remarkable illustration of the human capacity to find peace through forgiveness.