The Weinstein Company recently closed a deal for U.S. rights to “The Railway Man,” starring TWC Oscar faves Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) and Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”), which premiered at TIFF on September 6. The film is directed by Aussie Jonathan Teplitzsky, and centers on a World War II veteran (Firth) with post-traumatic stress disorder who returns to the site of his wartime torture. Per THR, it’s a $2 million buy.
The film is based on the true story of Eric Lomax, who was captured by Japanese troops and forced to labor on the Thailand Death Railway. But while the film is well-mounted and these superb actors give their all, it’s a straight-on telling of a story familiar to anyone who has seen David Lean’s “Bridge on the River Kwai.” This conventional narrative cannot compete with that classic.
Here’s what some early reviews are saying:
So a cosy love story suddenly plunges into the horrors of
war, as we see the Hades-like conditions endured by Lomax (played in younger
years by a never-better Jeremy Irvine), and then modulates again, to a complex
study in vengeance. From time to time, the script contextualises a little
clumsily – “Lomax, my friend, I think we just witnessed the fall of the
British empire,” said the young Finlay, as they watch the Japanese invade
– but the playing and pacing are terrific.
Teplitzky finishes with a kind of catharsis rarely on offer:
meek and deeply felt, a mature and moving exorcism.
An old-fashioned war drama stuffed into a cumbersomely
choppy time structure, The Railway Man is well-acted and handsomely produced,
but its honorable intentions are not matched with sustained emotional impact or
psychological suspense. The film boasts committed work from Colin Firth as a
British train enthusiast profoundly damaged by his experience as a prisoner of
war, along with tearful support from Nicole Kidman as his wife. But despite
those deluxe elements, it never quite transcends its stodgy approach.
Offering closure to a less-told chapter of World War II
history, “The Railway Man” retraces the tracks of an exceptional man’s life, as
former British soldier Eric Lomax confronts the Japanese officer who tortured
him as a prisoner of war nearly four decades earlier. This overly stodgy true
story brought audiences first to tears and later to their feet for a rousing
standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival with its placid, postcard-worthy
view of how men of a certain generation cope with deep emotional scars,
tenderly acted by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, as Lomax and the woman who
inspired his healing.
There’s no knocking Firth, and Kidman – whose scared
demeanour and accent slightly recall her performance in The Others – is an
expert coaxer: it falls to Patti to help Eric unlock the memories of this
trauma and nudge him towards closure. The film’s main problem, in a way, is a
comparable starchiness: you could think of it as The Reader cinema – polished
and diagrammatic, with a slightly nervous degree of dutiful prestige.
Ultimately, “The Railway Man” is as much about the
strength it takes to accept the past as it is about the honor it takes to
forgive someone, no matter how cruel the crime. “War leaves a mark,”
Finlay says, but whether that scar bleeds you for the rest of your life or is
stitched together with the aforementioned qualities could be the difference
between living in the now, or being forever stuck in a battle that has long
since stopped being fought. “The Railway Man” transmits these themes
with ease, but in doing so, forgets that coming to that kind of maturity
sometimes requires laboring long and hard through tracks of relationships,
memories and self-doubt that some people who don’t have the convenience of a
meet-cute on a train to solve.