“The Railway Man” Movie Review

     As we continue as a society to confront the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the men and women of the military who suffer from it each and every day, films such as director Jonathan Teplitzky’s “The Railway Man” provide a stark reminder that these are not new issues we are dealing with.  They are issues which, in fact, have been affecting those who have fought for our country during each and every war in history.  The horrors they witness on the battlefield are simply in-comprehendible to those whose experiences are limited to the day to day grind of a nine to five job.  When your life is on the line, along with the men fighting beside you, and survival mode kicks in, men find themselves reduced to the most primal state of being.  When that switch must suddenly be shut off and you are expected to reenter a society that is mostly unappreciative and can’t relate to what you’ve been through, that’s when problems tend to occur.  Such was the case for a real life former British Army Officer named Eric Lomax, who in the early 1980s still found himself suffering mentally and physically from his tortuous stay in a Japanese prison camp during World War 2.

     Teplitzky’s film is based off Lomax’s book in which he chronicles the horrific events he endured while a prisoner, only to meet one of the men responsible for his torture some 40 years later.  Eric Lomax, played by Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), has an affinity for trains and is known as an authority on the subject to his closest friends.  As a man now in his late 50s, he spends his days navigating the many train routes which wind throughout the British countryside.  One day, Eric meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train and the two engage in the kind of conversation where we know as an audience the couple is destined to end up together.  The story wastes no time moving forward as Eric and Patti marry and begin living what would appear to be a happy life. 

     Then, without notice, Eric falls to the floor into a fetal position, crying in agony as if he is re-experiencing something from his past.  Patti witnesses the nightmare, but is helpless as Eric is overcome by powerful emotion deep from his subconscious.  Teplitzky tells the story of Eric’s imprisonment through a series of well edited flashback scenes in which a young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) is seen with his fellow British soldiers just prior to their capture by the Japanese.  Because they are engineers, they are told they will be treated well as long as their efforts in the camp are deemed worthy by their captors.  The camp’s purpose is to aid in the construction of the Thai/Burma railway, which means long hours of forced hard labor for the thousands of Allied prisoners of war. 

     In order to help maintain morale, Eric constructs a radio from a bunch of mixed parts found around camp.  He and his closest friends work feverishly at all hours of the night to get their creation to work, all in an attempt to be able to listen to BBC broadcasts for updates on the war.  They are successful, but soon found out by Japanese guards who intend on making them pay.  Interrogators seem to believe the radio is capable of sending signals and after Eric admits to being the lone culprit, he is forced to endure brutal torture at the hands of the camp’s leader and an accompanying interpreter.  The scenes that follow are tough to watch, which seems to be a common theme in today’s cinema where we recently saw the atrocities of slavery in “12 Years A Slave”, as well as a similar style of torture and interrogation in “Zero Dark Thirty”.  It would appear these methods, especially the infamous technique called “water boarding”, have been around for a while.

     Once it is established to Patti that Eric has been through one of the most grueling ordeals humanly possible, she discovers via the newspaper that the interpreter, Nagase, who oversaw Eric’s torture is now running a museum in the very place where the torture occurred.  The combination of Lomax’s stunning description of these events combined with Teplitzky’s expert pacing and organization of this material makes for plenty of emotion as the film enters it’s third and most vital act.  By this time, you wonder because of Eric’s clear instability what he will do when he finally confronts the man four decades later.  Compared with the scenes depicted in flashback, the third act doesn’t seem as gripping as it should be, though it would take quite a turn of events to equal the brutal tactics the Japanese used on Eric when he was literally at his most vulnerable.  The conclusion will likely surprise you, but the story that gets you there is every bit as compelling as any war movie you’re apt to compare it to.  Colin Firth is outstanding as he conveys a man suffering from pain so deep it’s removal would seem an impossibility.  Solid supporting roles by Nicole Kidman, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Stellan Skarsgard round out the 80s cast with notable turns of the younger characters from Jeremy Irvine and Tanroh Ishida bringing a great deal of depth to the events during World War 2.  GRADE: B+