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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Railway Man

Or: Slow Drip


Despite its frequent appearance on stage and screen I have seen very few credible depictions the deep scaring of war. PTSD, Shell Shock, or truest term, Soldier’s Heart is a deeply private wound, unique as a thumbprint to its sufferer, and hardly definable for civilian understanding, much less mass entertainment. That doesn’t stop most people from trying to render it and the results generally fall into the fallow ground of queasy alienation. Though working from the true and extraordinary story of Eric Lomax, director Jonathan Teplitzky hardly does any better; his mucking about with time and Garry Phillips undeniably crisp cinematography give the story the lurid flare of a fever dream, rather than a chronicle.


In 1980, railway enthusiast Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) meets and falls in love with Patti Wallace (Nicole Kidman). Charmed by his endearing and very English oddness, she marries him only to find that his shy, forgetful nature masks a man who is still at war in the jungles of Thailand of some forty years ago. As an army engineer young Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) was captured by the Japanese forces and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railroad, a project so inhospitable it is widely considered a war crime in and of itself, claiming around 90,000 enforced civilian workers and 12,000 POWs along its two hundred and fifty miles. Captured in a moment of resistance Lomax was brutally interrogated by a Kempetai (Imperial military police, analogous to the Gestapo) translator named Takashi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) who left hi broken in body and soul. As Patti tries to coax her husband out of the shadows, Eric’s old comrade Finlay (Stellen Skarsgard) arrives with news that Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) is alive, prompting Eric to hunt down the source of his nightmares and exact his revenge

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The film, is a rare case of good acting and good cinematography being at odds as Firth and Kidman and Irivne try to give upright service to a story but are thwarted by so many oblique camera angles, waver-y fades, and reflective surface acting. The script isn’t doing anyone any favors either, wormy as it is with cliches and nonsequators. The film only comes to a good pace in its last half hour, when Lomax confronts Nagase, in the past and present, and visit soft words and big sticks on each other. In these scenes all four actors are given their chance to work their craft, and the violence, both fresh and festering, reaches something akin to its natural nastiness, having before taken on an unwelcome participatory feel.

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