The Railway Man
dir Jonathan Teplitzky
scr Frank Cottrell Boyce, Andy Paterson
prd Chris Brown, Bill Curbishley
with Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Hiroyuki Sanada, Stellan Skarsgard, Tanroh Ishida, Sam Reid, Tom Hobbs, Ewen Leslie, Akos Armont, Tom Stokes, Anthony Miller
release UK 10.Jan.13
13/Australia Lionsgate 1h56
The Railway Man
Making peace with the past: Firth and Kidman

irvine sanada skarsgard
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Railway Man While it's a little pushy emotionally and underplays a couple of key moments, this drama is a striking depiction of reconciliation. It's also beautifully played by both Firth and Kidman, two actors who don't need dialog to convey the inner thoughts of their characters.

Eric (Firth) is a railway enthusiast whose whole life has been defined by trains. He even meets his wife Patti (Kidman) on a rail journey. But their marriage falters when he becomes overwhelmed by his experiences as a forced-labourer for the Japanese during WWII, building a railway in Thailand. Patti turns to his veteran friend Finlay (Skarsgard) for advice, finally spurring Eric to face his fear and humiliation over his horrible incarceration and torture. Eventually, he heads to Thailand to confront his tormenter Nagase (Sanada).

The story plays out largely in flashbacks, as Finlay describes the events to Patti because Eric won't talk about them. So we see the young Eric and Finlay (Irvine and Reid) engaging in quietly subversive actions while the young Nagase (Ishida) acts as a translator for their captors. These scenes feel somewhat simplified, shying away from the true horrors of the situation in a way that feels stiff-upper-lip British. But this means that when we finally see Eric's own memories, they lack the needed wrenching horror, even though what happened is horrific.

Fortunately, director Teplitzky does a much better job at capturing the psychological aspects of the story, which are of course beautifully played by Firth and the underused Kidman. We have no trouble identifying with the inner torment both are feeling, and as events progress the film tackles some huge themes in a strikingly resonant way. This ultimately may be a story about forgiveness, but there's something much more complex going on here.

Watching these events unfold reminds us that much of today's political interaction lacks even the vaguest attempt to understand each other. The truth is that even our archest enemies are human, with reasons for what they do, so bombing them into oblivion is never going to help. In the final scenes, even with a couple of too-obvious touches and an oddly lurching pace, the power of this idea hits us with real force and gives the film a strong sense of urgency.

cert 15 themes, violence 20.Sep.13

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