REVIEW: The Railway Man

10 08 2014

The Railway Man“War leaves a mark,” states Jonathan Teplitzky’s “The Railway Man,” a film that ironically leaves very little mark on the viewer.  Two hours of events chug along like a train just pulling out of the station, and there’s hardly any rewarding byproduct from enduring it.

Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson’s script moseys through Eric Lomax’s autobiography, cutting back and forth between his time as a young soldier (Jeremy Irvine) trapped in a Japanese POW camp and his life as a haunted older man (Colin Firth) unable to connect with his wife (Nicole Kidman).  The format feels a little clunky, sure, but that fault pales in comparison to how blandly they present the story.  Nothing about “The Railway Man” seems meant to inspire thought about larger ideas, unless that’s what you’re making for dinner after the movie is over.

Firth does a nice job conveying the damage of his traumatic wartime experience; it’s almost as if he’s just doing a more reserved, understated reprise of his Oscar-winning role as Bertie from “The King’s Speech.”  But “The Railway Man” does a better job of conveying that isolation and sense of smallness with its striking, emotionally detached long shots than Firth does with any acting.

Teplitzky clearly knows how to make a film like this by the book, yet as a result, it comes across as rather cold and unfeeling.  I would have loved to have seen it delve more into the psychology of Eric, both when he’s emotionally scarred as a prisoner and when he embarks on a mysterious quest for revenge as a veteran.  Without such insight, “The Railway Man” just feels like a placeholder for a truly hard-hitting World War II flick to really sweep us off our feet.  C+2stars