The Railway Man

Directed By: Jonathan Teplitzky

Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Tanroh Ishida

At the beginning of time the clock struck one
Then dropped the dew and the clock struck two
From the dew grew a tree and the clock struck three
The tree made a door and the clock struck four
Man came alive and the clock struck five
Count not, waste not the years on the clock
Behold I stand at the door and knock.

-Eric Lomax (Colin Firth)

If any group of people knows how to waste the years on the clock, it's the United States Congress.  Just look at the ongoing battle between Senator Dianne Feinstein and the CIA over the agency's abominable torture policies.  It's been the better part of five and a half years since the decider George W. Bush was in office, and the Senate is just getting around to doing this now.  I can certainly understand not being able to get this sort of assessment out in a Republican-controlled Congress, but Democrats could have acted more forcefully in 2007 and 2008 when Bush's "enhanced interrogation tactics" were still in full effect.  Still, this ongoing battle between legislators and former members of the executive branch is the perfect backdrop for this weekend's The Railway Man, a film that delves into the lifelong scars of torture on former WWII POW Eric Lomax.

Train enthusiast Eric Lomax (older- Firth; younger- Jeremy Irvine) meets a woman by the name of Patti Wallace (Nicole Kidman) while riding the train one day.  Sparks fly during this fateful ride.  Afterward, Eric immediately tells his best friend Finlay (older- Stellan Skarsgård; younger- Sam Reid) that he's in love.  Later, he finds out Patti's route and surprises her at the train station.  From there, romance ensues.  Soon, the two are to be married, and life ahead for these two lovers looks quite harmonious.  One morning during their honeymoon, however, Eric curls up on their floor in utter despair and fear as he relives a horrible time in his life when he was a much younger man.

Decades prior, Eric serves in the British armed forces during World War II.  After the Fall of Singapore in which the British surrendered the territory to the Japanese, Eric, Finlay, and many others are taken captive as prisoners-of-war.  Forced to labor and help construct the Thai-Burma Railway, Eric finds hell on earth at the Japanese POW camp where he's being held.  One man in particular, an interpreter by the name of Takashi Nagase (older- Hiroyuki Sanada; younger- Tanroh Ishida), haunts Eric during his time at the camp with vile acts of torture.  Takashi still haunts Eric to this day.  With him on the floor of their honeymoon suite writhing in fear of the past, this is now very clear to Patti as well.  Now, she wants nothing more than to help her husband to overcome the demons of his past.  To do so, she enlists the help of Finlay.

Though the film chronicles both Lomax's younger years as a POW and his older years as a veteran, Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man is a potent look at the scars heinous crimes leave on men, both the tortured and the torturers alike.  The voids left by such inhumane acts can't be filled by hatred or despondency, and they only go deeper as the clock ticks away.  These voids can only be filled by forgiveness, and the redemptive power of this is exactly what comes to the forefront in The Railway Man.  Marked by poignant, emotive direction from Teplitzky and impressive performances from his cast, The Railway Man is a surprisingly good drama for this time of year.

I have to compliment Teplitzky for skillfully oscillating between Eric's past and present to illustrate his inability to move on from this horrific time in his life. However, doing so also highlights a casting mismatch.  In a compelling subversive performance as an older Lomax tormented by his past, Colin Firth deftly bottles up all his anxieties and stresses until he implodes on screen.  In what amounts to just a solid performance as the younger Lomax, Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) certainly commits himself to the character but pales in comparison to Firth's portrayal of the older Lomax.  Given that Irvine is the one who has the juicier torture scenes, this really shouldn't be the case.  It should be exactly the opposite.  Though the mismatch is noticeable, it doesn't take too much away from The Railway Man.

I have to commend The Railway Man for being the first enjoyable movie themed around World War II in quite some time.  Though its opening act falters with slow pacing, the film recovers and really builds a great deal of intrigue once the clock strikes two.  Though there's a bit of a casting mismatch in which Firth outshines Irvine, the cast still delivers on the whole.  All in all, The Railway Man gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a few mimosas as the clock ticks away during this one.