Movie Reviews

‘The Railway Man’: The Death Railway revisited

By Hidzir JunainiMovies - 12 March 2014 12:00 AM

‘The Railway Man’: The Death Railway revisited

The Railway Man trailer

Our Rating

4/5 Stars

The soldiers who survive war are often thought of as the lucky ones. But for those afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an honourable battlefield death might have been the merciful option. At least then, they wouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives coping with unimaginable trauma and pain long after the fog of war clears. Readjusting to civilian life seems possible on the surface, but forgetting what they went through proves to be impossible for veterans like Eric Lomax. ‘The Railway Man’ tells his true story (based upon Lomax’s own bestselling autobiography) and it is a remarkable, real-life tale of repression, revenge and reconciliation. 

This British-Australian production takes the opposite approach of a Hollywood take on the source material, and the film comes out better for it. Instead of over-dramatisation, director Jonathan Teplitzy has decided to pursue a more sedate and contemplative narrative, thereby magnifying moments of outburst or horror when they do finally boil over. And fittingly enough, Colin Firth is the one cast to portray the haunted Lomax. From ‘The King’s Speech’ to ‘A Single Man’, Firth has become skilled at playing the stoic man who bottles up his emotions, and he once again turns in a wonderfully understated performance here.   

The movie first picks up Lomax’s life decades after the Second World War, where he’s become a reclusive man with a passion for trains but without much of a social life. During one of his many railway journeys, he engages in conversation and falls in love with a woman named Patti (a vastly underused Nicole Kidman). Their encounter resembles a stiff upper lip rendition of Jesse and Celine’s first meeting in ‘Before Sunrise’, and it’s the perfect catalyst to their eventual marriage. But romantic bliss soon crumbles when Lomax’s PTSD catches up to him. The deeply private man tries to internalise his memories, but the anguish seeps through in the form of panic attacks, hallucinations and violent nightmares. 

Intensely worried, Patti approaches Lomax’s old war buddy Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) for some insight. Both agree that that Lomax needs to address his demons – but they go about it in vastly different ways. Patti gets her husband to recount his trauma as a form of therapy, and this is where we delve into the movie’s extensive flashback sequences. As it turns out, young Lomax (played by Jeremy Irvine) was actually taken captive in Singapore during the Japanese invasion of 1942, before being forced to become one of the many forced labourers on the Thailand-Burma Railway construction. His time as POW proves to be hellish as he’s subjected to torture, degradation and the harshest of conditions.

Meanwhile, Finlay presents a less passive route to recovery. Finlay has actually found their old internment camp tormentor Nagase (played by Hiroyuki Sanada and Tanroh Ishida as the older and younger versions respectively) alive, well and unbelievably, still making a living in Thailand. Lomax is urged to return to the scene of the war crime to confront the man responsible for the lion’s share of his pain, and it is here where Lomax struggles to reconcile his overwhelming desire for retribution. The tremulous space between urgent fury and needed forgiveness is where ‘The Railway Man’ really stirs the soul, addressing issues of hate and healing without oversimplifying its context. The storytelling may be rigid, but ‘The Railway Man’ hits all the right emotional notes where it counts. 

‘The Railway Man’ opens in cinemas 13 Feb 

Movie Photos

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Railway Man