"-You are a soldier, Lomax. You never surrendered." "-I'm still at war."
The Railway Man is one of those films that I find difficult to review because I find the underlying message to be a powerful and redeeming one, while I also find a lot of flaws with the pacing and time lapse of the story. I guess despite never having read the bestselling autobiography by Eric Lomax I would recommend reading it over watching this film. The theme of forgiveness that this film deals with is inspiring, but I think that the book would probably move me more than this film did. I had a hard time engaging with the characters despite the fact that I loved the cast. The flashbacks during the War worked much better than the scenes back home where we see Eric tormented by his past. I felt like the film was rushing things to get to the important climactic scene near the end, but we never got much of a character arc for Eric's present and how he fell in love with Patti (played by Nicole Kidman). As much as I like Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman I really never felt that connection between them considering his character, Eric, was always so disconnected from everything. The story should be an engaging one, but I found myself detached for the majority of the film. It did however succeed in engaging me during the flashbacks with the atrocities Eric had to endure as a prisoner of war, and the final climactic scene also left me interested enough in the story to want to read the book, but it didn't really move me the way it should've.
Lomax's autobiography was adapted by Andy Paterson and Frank Boyce. The film opens by introducing us to Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), as he is boarding a train he sits next to the lovely Patti (Nicole Kidman) and they have a very friendly conversation. The chemistry between them is evident. They eventually marry, but Patti realizes that Eric is still haunted by his past. He loses touch with reality and suffers from recurring nightmares. In order to help him, Patti contacts one of Eric's friends who happened to serve with him in Singapore during the Second World War. Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) at first refuses to talk about their past, but he gives in and tells her what happened. We see what he tells her through flashbacks. The young Finlay (Sam Reid) and Eric (Jeremy Irvine) have been imprisoned by the Japanese Army and are forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway. Since they are engineers they aren't forced to do the hard work, but when they discover that Eric has built a radio and been informing the rest of the prisoners about the events that have been going on, they torture him. Takeshi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) is the Japanese translator who actually tortured Eric and left him traumatized for life. Things take an unexpected turn in the present when Finlay tells Patti that he knows where Nagase is. She has to decide whether it is wise for him to know this so he can confront him, or wether this will affect Eric even more. She decides to tell him and Eric embarks on a journey to confront his past.
Eric's story is really inspiring and uplifting, but at times the film didn't feel that way. My major concerns had to do with the way everything felt rushed in the present in order to get to the final confrontation. There were a lot of things that were missing and that affected my overall appreciation of the film. The ending was uplifting and powerful, but the journey was not so much. I really liked the cinematography, especially the scenes in the flashback in the beautiful Thai region. Hiroyuki Sanada also gives a strong performance and plays a key role in the final third of the film. The direction by Jonathan Teplitzky was a bit uneven at times, but I still had a decent time with this film. The cast alone is worth giving this film a shot and the story of forgiveness and redemption is always something I find uplifting and inspiring. As long as you go into this film with low expectations you can take something positive out of it.