For a film based on an extraordinarily touching true story, The Railway Man is distractingly stagey. It starts off with a middle-aged meet-cute on a train where we encounter Colin Firth as Eric Lomax, a dweeby trainspotter who needs to be brought out of his shell by sweet, cardigan-wearing Nicole Kidman. But as the film develops it takes a tonal leap, shifting back in history to when young Lomax was a prisoner of war put to work in gruelling conditions on the Thai-Burma railway by brutal Japanese captors.
The horrors of war understandably reverberate through Lomax’s later life but Firth, who can exhibit real range, seems a little out of his depth here, unable to find a new way to express his character’s psychic damage without resorting to the suppressed British rage that worked so well in The King’s Speech. Kidman’s role, although based on a real person, is one-dimensional, tacked on with the sole function of exposing the cause of Lomax’s trauma. The core relationship of the story is actually that of Lomax and his tormentor, a Japanese interrogator.
Tepliski’s workmanlike direction often feels laboured, as though the film has been bolted together using scenes from other movies. The opening could be straight out of a Richard Curtis rom-com and the flashback scenes feel like pale imitations of The Bridge on the River Kwai. It’s only near the last reel that the film seems to shed the sense of artifice and dish up an emotional wallop; finally becoming a satisfying, heartstring-tugging tale that reveals the worst – and best – of humanity.
‘The Railway Man’ Movie Times