Based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a Prisoner of War tortured by the Japanese during the harsh and cruel building of the Burma railway, The Railway Man has all the potential of an awards season drama. Yet Jonathan Teplitzky’s film falls short of expectations, failing to do justice to this poignant and moving material.

We’re introduced to Lomax (Colin Firth) in later life – a keen railway enthusiast – when he meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train. A romance ensues but after they’re wed Patti realises Lomax can not escape the torture of his past.
The Railway Man

The unbalanced screenplay from Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions) and Andy Paterson feels too heavily weighted towards Lomax and Patti’s later years without giving us any significant insight into their lives since the end of the war. After meandering around a lightweight romance, flashbacks to Lomax’s early experiences on the Burma railway and Patti’s efforts to uncover her husband’s past, The Railway Man makes a sudden shift.

Teplitzky’s film picks up pace, forcing Lomax to face his past head on when he leaves Patti behind to re-visit the scene of his torture. Teplitzky now reveals the extent of Lomax’s suffering at the hands of his torturers. It’s harrowing material diminished by the implausibly robust physical condition of the prisoners. Even so, it’s here where The Railway Man digs deep to expose its most powerful messages about the effects of war. Following its rambling build up, it’s regrettable that this shift comes much too late in the day and consequently The Railway Man’s resolution feels rushed and flimsy.

“Teplitzky’s film is simply not brave enough to do justice to the extreme conditions faced by the ‘Death Railway’s’ Prisoners of War”

Firth is once more on top form giving us a conflicted and, at times, frighteningly disturbed Lomax. Jeremy Irving, who plays Lomax’s younger self, syncs impeccably with Firth to give the film’s disjointed structure well needed consistency. Meanwhile, clearly hampered by a script that gives little insight into Patti, Kidman gives a rigid performance that is surprisingly emotionless, feeling off key considering the film’s moving subject matter. The addition of Lomax’s friend and fellow Prisoner of War, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) is similarly underwritten leaving the film’s crucial plot turn feeling more than a little clumsy.

Despite early attention to detail – scenes of men packed onto cramped trains without water – and a scattering of scenes with exhausted and broken prisoners digging a trench with their bare hands, Teplitzky’s film is simply not brave enough to do justice to the extreme conditions faced by the ‘Death Railway’s’ Prisoners of War. Hampered by a disjointed structure and a meandering build-up, The Railway Man pulls off a redeeming last act that delivers an emotional message but could have been so much more.

VERDICT: ✭✭✭✩✩ 3/5

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