The Railway Man Movie Review
A terrific true story is oddly underplayed in this sober, sedate drama about reconciliation and making peace with the past. Strikingly complex performances from Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman help give the film some deeper resonance, even if even it all seems rather under-powered. But the force of emotion in the events makes the film worth a look.
In 1980 Scotland, railway expert Eric (Firth) has defined his entire life by trains. During the Second World War, he was captured by the Japanese and put into forced-labour to build a railway in Thailand. And more recently he met his wife Patti (Kidman) on a train journey. But their marriage starts to collapse when Eric refuses to face up to his torture at the hands of his wartime captors all those years ago, so Patti turns to his war-veteran pal Finlay (Skarsgard) for help. Eventually, Eric makes the difficult decision to return to Thailand and confront his tormenter Nagase (Sanada).
A more Hollywood-style film would play out as a build-up to roaring vengeance, but director Teplitzky internalises the tone, showing us past events in extensive flashbacks as the young Eric and Finlay (Irvine and Reid) try to subvert the young Nagase (Ishida) at every turn. These scenes are eerily tame as well, and only reveal the true horror of Eric's experience when he finally faces up to it himself. Instead, the focus is on his struggle to forgive Nagase, and this gives the film a strongly moving punch.
Firth and Irvine are terrific as Eric, cleverly matching their performances to let us see under the character's skin. Kidman is somewhat underused, but also lends weight to her scenes. And while the script's complexity may undermine the film's entertainment value, it's also what makes it important. This is a story about seeking a positive path, much as Mandela did in South Africa. The rest of the world seeks retribution and violence, but the only way forward is reconciliation.