Sunday, 2 February 2014

My Thoughts on: The Railway Man (2014 Film)


(That's Japanese for 'Hello' if anyone's wondering...) 

Warning: This film is certificate 15 in the UK, containing scenes of torture and moderate violence.

Again, I've managed to find a greeting linked my review. Yesterday, I went to see 'The Railway Man' at the cinema with a few friends. I had been wanting to see it since first viewing of the trailer and in no way was I disappointed. In my horror/awe, I described it to my mum as 'brilliant but horrendous' and after sleeping on it, I actually still agree. Hopefully I can be slightly more literate here so hope you enjoy...

To give you some historical context, the film is set in the 40's, at the height of WW2, when the British Army surrendered to the Japanese. They're ordered to build a railway which was later dubbed 'The Death Railway,' in order to help the opposition, in return for a cease fire. They, along with thousands of natives, suffered in brutal conditions, shown in some of the torture scenes that viewers are warned about beforehand.  

On meeting Eric Lomax in the '80s (Colin Firth) he describes his passionate love affair with wife Patti (Nicole Kidman.) As a 'railway enthusiast,' it seems appropriate that they met on a train.; the jumpy cuts between scenes worked well as a method of passing time, once my eyes had adjusted to it. Moreover, the romance was sweet, blossoming into a long marriage, so I instantly warmed to both characters. There wasn't too much of it either, and even though the scene walking along the beach was a little cringe-y, considering Patti is the only thing Lomax had to hold on to, it balanced effectively, and was only a minor component of the film.

The beginning led me to believe Lomax led a happy life after returning home from his ordeal. How misleading it was. Still deeply traumatized by his experiences, Lomax leaves his wife no option but to confide in his friend and fellow war veteran, Finlay, (Stellan Skarsgard/ Sam Reid) who in my opinion put in one of the best performances. Firth takes a back seat in this section, as Finlay tells all. I read a review earlier - I think it was by someone for the Telegraph - who thought using Finlay to tell the story was a mistake, making it impersonal and distanced for viewers. I disagree. Using Finlay as a cipher made the events later involving him more sudden, unnerving and disturbing. As he was able to talk about the experience, yet hide his true feelings, it made him a more complex character.

The switch  between young and old Lomax (Firth to Jeremy Irvine) was smooth, even if the glasses did make me think of Harry Potter - which I deemed inappropriate in such a serious film. Relationships between the soldiers were also pulled off well, particularly apparent in the role call, switching from numbers to the names of royalty. It brought to life all the stories my granddad has told me about war, all the different soldiers and how he can so vividly remember them all. I thought the film might be something he could enjoy. That was until it got to the torture scenes.

I think the director made the right choice in not showing too much violence. In short bursts, it made me feel uneasy and consider how the real life Lomax either didn't kill himself, or be killed from the suffering. One scene still haunts me now, with the cries of Irvine and the traumatized yells of Firth still echoing in  my head. The film opens, and echoes a childhood rhyme, showing how emotionally scarred Lomax became, retreating into himself and becoming more isolated. 

It wasn't all torture though. In desperation, Lomax's main motivation throughout the film is to track down the man who put him through all of this. When he succeeds and comes face to face with his captor, what follows is heart wrenching and often unpredictable. The emotional anger that he's been through pours out. I won't spoil the ending but it's definitely one that I didn't expect. 

What started as a passionate and perhaps naive affair with Patti, ends as a love that has been strengthened by trauma, one that is rare in modern society in my opinion. There was no OTT arguments, it was merely a cry for help on both parts. The simple fact that Lomax took his wife to a place that held such terrible memories showed that he was letting her into his world, that only she could nurture. 

In terms of criticism, I really can't think of anything particularly to note. Since I'm not expert on this period of history, I couldn't pick out any historical inaccuracies, and I found all the actors put in a stellar performance. I haven't seen a film in a long time that has affected me as much as 'The Railway Man' and I think that's a credit to everyone involved. To get through to someone who isn't usually interesting in this subject matter is a real achievement. I have only praise. 

In summary: Based on the best selling memoir of Eric Lomax, this hard hitting insight into the events surrounding the Thai-Burma railway is profound and affecting - judging by the sobs surrounding me at the end. One that may stun you into silence. 5 stars.