The Railway Man
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Andy Paterson
Based on: Eric Lomax‘ autobiography
Cast: Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Tanroh Ishida, Sam Reid, Hiroyuki Sanada
Seen on: 6.7.2015
Eric (Colin Firth) meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) by chance on a train and the two of them immediately hit it off. a short while later they get married and Pattie discovers that Eric is still stuck in his war experiences: as a young man (Jeremy Irvine), he was a prisoner in a Japanese labor camp for a good while and is now suffering from PTSD. When his best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) brings him a news report that shows his tormentor from back then, Takeshi (Hiroyuki Sanada), now working at a memorial of the labor camp and Eric decides to go back and make him suffer.
Railway Man is way too long and has so many issues I couldn’t like it one bit, despite the great cast.
For the biggest part of the film, we get a representation of Japanese people that is borderline racist. It is one thing to talk about them in terms of aggressors and tormentors – which is definitely what they were when it came to their prisoners in WW2. But the Japanese people here all blur into a dehumanized whole, screaming in Japanese without subtitles to further heighten the alienation and being senselessly violent. Even Takeshi, the one Japanese person to get a name and a bit more personality, only gets those after the war, when he has realized the error of his ways and tries to atone for everything.
And speaking of that atonement and the ending: I realize that this film is based on a true story and Takeshi and Eric actually did become friends, but the ending felt so sickly sweet to me, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Neither did I want it to happen: healthy closure does not necessarily mean starting to love the person who harmed you so much.
Add to those iffy politics the fact that the movie completely fails the “sexy lamp test” [If you remove the women in the story from said story and replace her with a sex lamp, does anything change?] and you got a movie on your hands that not only completely squanders Nicole Kidman (who gets to look concerned while man talk at her about each other and themselves. That’s it), but one that really doesn’t win any points anywhere. Not even Colin Firth or Stellan Skarsgard can save that doomed ship.