The Railway Man: Review

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The Railway Man, based on the autobiography by Eric Lomax, tells of the struggle that Lomax himself faced in coming to terms with the horrors and torture he experienced when captured in World War II Japan.

It’s a film which I can best describe as off balance. There’s some stuff in it that I really liked, mainly it’s final forty minutes or so which is tense, moving and at one point nearly made me well up, but for the most part I couldn’t help but think there was something amiss with it.

I think the main problem the film has, like many based on autobiographies, is trying to decide what to put in, what to leave out and what to focus on. For example the opening scene which finds Lomax meeting his future wife Patricia Wallace on a train which completely charmed me and wouldn’t be out of place in a Richard Curtis film, just feels out of place in the grand scheme of things with the rest of the film dealing with the obviously dark subject matter.

In fact their entire relationship is probably the least interesting part of the film and feels like a missed opputunity. Nicole Kidman who plays Wallace well, just seems to disappear into the background about halfway through and when faced with the decision as to whether or not give Lomax information regarding his torutrer, there seems to be no moral struggle, something that would have been interesting to watch.

The balance between flashbacks and the present is something which feels structurally off too, leading to some issues with pacing as well. It’s not until Lomax sets out to confront the man who tortured him all those years ago that I became completely encompassed by the film but this happens far too late for me to feel satisfied with the overall experience.

This being said, Colin Firth is as excellent to watch as always and Jeremy Irvine, who plays a young Lomax and who does an excellent Firth impression, is the best I’ve seen him so far in his career. 

I have to say it handles the subject of war and torture, a subject as relevant now as it’s ever been, really respectfully and I feel more successfully than Zero Dark Thirty did last year too.

Overall though The Railway Man is okay but just okay. In terms of its story, it’s one which is moving and important that people know but I can’t help but think you’d get a much more satisfying experience by reading the autobiography it’s based on.

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