The Railway Man is a war film directed by Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky. The stellar cast includes Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine and Stellan Skarsgård.
The film is based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a British soldier who was imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp during WW2. During his time at the prison he was brutally tortured and abused by the secret police (Kempetai) officer Takashi Nagase. As the story unfolds, we learn that Lomax has survived the war and he’s convinced by his friend Finlay, who was a fellow inmate at the POW camp, to confront his lifelong enemy. In this process, Eric’s wife Patti also plays a pivotal role; she wants to help her husband more than anything and understands the truth behind his idiosyncrasies. Eric finally meets Takashi and what comes out from this meeting is truly unexpected. The use of the flashback by Teplitzky is really interesting; he gives us an insight into Lomax’s mind by using an alternation of present and past events. This feature is much used in the confrontation scene which, to me, was one of the best of the whole film.
There were also some other scenes and techniques I particularly enjoyed.
Firstly, the dialogue between Eric and his friend Finlay. You can tell by Finlay’s words and worried frown how much he cares for Lomax and that he truly wants him to finally overcome the ghosts of his past and terrible fears. Lomax’s past still haunts him, deprives him of sleep at night, and prevents him from living a normal life. He suffers from the so-called Post Traumatic Disorder and he has never really recovered. There’s a line by Finlay that I think sums up how POWs really felt during and after the war:
“We don’t live, we’re miming in the choir. We can’t love, we can’t sleep, we are an army of ghosts.”
This excerpt contains literally everything there is to say of soldiers’ post-war experiences and it really struck me when I heard it from Stellan Skarsgård’s character, whose performance in this film was not an exception to his usually remarkable roles.
The scene of Lomax’s dream is also interesting for its psychological meaning but perhaps more so for the technique used by Teplitzky. We see Lomax followed by Takashi but, while he’s walking, Lomax seems to be gliding over the floor. I think the director chose this particular effect to create a ghost/dream-like atmosphere and let us know for sure that it is all in Lomax’s head. Past and future collide and eventually Lomax finds himself right before the Kempetai gates. The Kempetai headquarters play a central role in the film and in Lomax’s life so I guess that this dream scene has the precise purpose of showing the viewer Lomax’s feelings and traumas. Another recurring theme is the train, which is referred to and explored in all its variations throughout the story.
I found Lomax and Patti’s relationship crucial. Patti stood by her husband all along and helped him on his journey back to his memories.
The character is insightful and is played brilliantly by Nicole Kidman. I have never particularly liked her performances but this one stood out. The performances of Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as the adult and young Lomax respectively are also outstanding, though I seriously think that Jeremy Irvine needed more screen time, and that the film would have been even better if there had been more references to the past.
If all this isn’t enough for you to watch it, then you must know that the film has also won a AACTA Award in the categories: Best Adapted Screenplay; and, Best Original Music Score. The screenplay is in fact based on Lomax’s autobiographical book by the same name.
As a war film lover I can’t honestly say it was my favourite, maybe because the narrative was slow-paced and that was perhaps the only thing that detracted from my enjoyment of the film. However, the marvellous work of the cast and the director held my attention from the very start. All things considered, it was a very good, well-crafted war film. What really affected me was to see the outcome of Lomax and Nagase’s meeting, and the truth behind the story. I can’t say much more, but I surely and undoubtedly suggest that you watch it, especially if you’re into these kinds of biopics and war stories.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.