He’s been working on the railroad, all the goddamn day.
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train and the two automatically strike-up a conversation, therefore creating a connection as well. And rightfully so, because they seem to have a lot in common – despite his love of trains, they are both soft-spoken, reserved, and shy, but expect to be happy with that one other, special person, that is if that person ever comes around. They think they’ve both found that special person in one another, so they automatically decide it’s time to get hitched and start their lives together. Which is all fine and dandy at first, but once Eric begins to have panic-attacks and freak the ‘eff out over something he’s imagining in his head, then it all gets a bit sketchy. Still, Patti loves Eric enough to stick with him and figure out just what’s up with him. Through his buddy Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), she finds out that Eric was once a young, dashing soldier in the British military during WWII when Japan made them surrender and took them into their prisoner-of-war camps. In this camp, Eric experienced all sorts of hell and torture that he doesn’t wish to talk about, but may get the chance to confront them head on when he hears that one of his captors (Hiroyuki Sanada ) is still alive and at the spot where he was treated like dung all those years back.
My problem with this movie right off the bat began when I realized that everything was going and moving a bit too fast for me, as well as for itself. See, we hardly get any introduction into Eric Lomax, other than he’s a smart, rather nerdy-chap that sort of, kind of, maybe, has a way with the ladies, as long as the ladies enjoy his constant blabbering about trains and railways. Nor do we get much of anything to Patti, despite her being played by Nicole Kidman and more than deserving of some development before we are thrown right into things. But nope, we see them get placed on the same train together, somewhat hit it off, and then, all of a sudden, they’re happy, frolicking on beaches, kissing, making-love and married – all in the span of a five-minute montage.
That felt a little too quick to me, but then, it gets a bit worse. See, once we are introduced to Eric in the present-day and his life he has with Patti, then things switch around to the days of when he was in the army; more specifically, the event in which his whole squad practically got captured and taken in as hostages. This, I kid you not, occurs quicker than Eric and Patti getting married, and made me feel as if I maybe started a bit too late and missed a reel or two. Because surely, no movie would just toss us into a whole bunch of action we don’t really have any reason for seeing in the first place, right?
Well, nope. In the case of the Railway Man, the first half-hour is very hard to get through. Not because it is slow or taking its good old time (which it does in many cases throughout the whole film), but because we never get any understanding of any of these characters. We just notice that they’re sort of sad, distraught and trying to make best with what they can. That’s a trait all humans have, but what else did they have?!? Not much else really, and that’s why I was wondering if I was going to give a single hoot about this trip Eric was going to take, why it mattered and just exactly what kind of person he was before he got married and started having crazy hallucinations.
Thankfully though, I got that, and then some.
I guess I should go into the idea of how most of this story is fact, but that shouldn’t get in the way with how you view it. In fact, I’m not even going to place a link to the actual details of the true story, because I don’t think it needs to be read beforehand. Because what works so well with this movie is the fact in how it continues to build its story through flashbacks and the present-time it presents, yet, never feels like a gimmick. In fact, it’s one of the very few movies I’ve seen in quite some time, where the flashbacks didn’t get in the way of what was really going on and mattered; they served the story, and all of the emotional-notes it was supposed to hit.
Sure, it’s a story of forgiveness and it is no doubt that most of this story may have been a bit fabricated to get away from the really, REALLY brutal and grim details of what went on in those camps, but the movie never seems like it’s pulling away many punches either. It focuses on this Eric guy, what he went through in the war, and how it has made him the person he was back when he was alive. It’s actually very sad to watch, considering we know that there are plenty of others just like Eric out there, right now, that we can’t really seem to do much for except just pat on the back, hug, talk to and let know that everything is going to be alright, even if they’re going to be stuck with those nightmares for the rest of their natural-born lives.
It’s a sad reality, but it’s one that will never stop to be true. Regardless of what you’re feelings of the war may be.
And as usual, Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman are both great with what they do here as Eric and Patti Lomax. Moreso of Firth because he has plenty of screen-time to himself, although I feel like his character went through so many characteristic-changes over the course of a whole, three-to-four-hour conversation that he was suffering from something more than just PTSD, and more like being bipolar, but maybe that was how he was in real life. I didn’t know and honestly, I didn’t care too much about it because Firth is so good here and it made me happy to see him getting another meaty role that’s worthy of his talents.
Kidman, however, doesn’t really have much to do except look upset, smile occasionally, and be on the verge of tears just about everytime Eric is acting up. It’s nice to see Kidman and Firth get a chance to work together, but it’s a bit of a shame that this has to be the movie, where they don’t spend too much time together that doesn’t consist of them shutting the other one out, or not talking at all. Sometimes, it’s a bit frustrating because you know there could be so much more emotional fireworks had there been maybe one or two more scenes of them just talking, but I guess those parts of the script just got written out.
However, as good as Kidman and Firth are, the one who really steals the show is Jeremy Irvine, who plays the younger-version of Firth’s Eric. The only time I’ve seen Irvine in something else was War Horse, and while I may not see all that much range within his acting-prowess from those two movies, I can still see that this guy has plenty of promise. For starters, it looks like he really got into this role as a brutalized, tortured soldier that is in a whole other game than he expected to be and it makes us all feel sympathy for him. Especially when he’s getting water-boarded and yet, still decides to stick with his story. Don’t know about you, but that takes some damn courage.
Not saying that it’s ever happened to me, but man, does that just look terrible or what!
Consensus: Takes awhile to get adjusted to, but once the Railway Man gets the wheels turning, the story hits the emotional notes it’s supposed to, which is mostly thanks to both Jeremy Irvine and Colin Firth’s great performances.
6.5 / 10 = Rental!!