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 The Railway Man - film review

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Enlightened Viewer

PostSubject: The Railway Man - film review   Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:09 pm

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, The Railway Man is based upon the autobiography of Eric Lomax. The film focuses upon how Lomax’s (Colin Firth/Jeremy Irvine) wartime experiences impacted upon his life, especially his relationship with his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman), whom Lomax met after turning 60.

This is a simply told drama with some nice cinematic dovetailing between events depicted as current (the film begins in 1980) and those which occurred in war torn Singapore. However, those expecting an emphasis on war and what happened to Lomax and his compatriots, may be disappointed as the film’s focus is on Lomax’s psychological torment and Patti’s role in the healing process that eventually occurred. The importance of the war time experiences is revealed through flashbacks and spoken narration. Still, the depiction of Patti’s suffering, due to her husband’s psychological trauma, is well realised and both stars perform their roles well.

Ironically I felt the film pulled back from depicting much of the torturous grind involved in the Japanese POW attempt to build the Thai-Burma railway. This was shown to an extent but, for me, the impact of these scenes was mediated by the excitement of smuggling radio parts, then the passing on of news from home. In addition, some of the torture scenes described in Lomax’s autobiography were apparently not included; on the basis they would be too graphic. I think this is a shame as the film needed to pack a much harder punch in this department. The viewer is shown certain aspects of how brutal life in the Japanese POW camp was - and one scene did hit the right note for me – but, in the main, I think the viewer is given just a glimpse, which then undermines the importance of Lomax’s final message concerning bitterness, hate and forgiveness.

One performance I felt was noteworthy is that of Jeremy Irvine as the young Lomax. He managed to portray much of the physical and mental conflict suffered by Lomax. It was also plain that he and Firth worked very hard to ensure the physical traits of Lomax were consistent. In addition neither actor ever lost sight of how Lomax was essentially a radio operator who was ill equipped for the reality of the harshness of war.

There was one aspect of this film I felt was excellent – the art direction. Much attention was given to the framing of shots and the use of colour. Shots framed by windows were especially interesting. For instance; in the one where Patti is talking to Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) the colour is completely stripped back so we see the performers in silhouette. Another example is the shot-reverse-shot sequence between Patti and Lomax on the train when they first meet. Here, Patti is filmed in bright light, colours are vivid and strong, the shot has absolute clarity. Contrastingly, Lomax is filmed using a tint that dulls the colours and gives a slight grainy effect. For me this demonstrated how Patti is alive and fully engaged in the present, whereas Lomax isn’t. The colour spectrum difference signifies how internalised and shut down Lomax is; the grainy quality of the shot arguably suggests he’s living in the past, as it resonates with an earlier time in film making history. What I then found interesting is how at the end of the film we see them, together as a couple rather than individually, bathed in brilliant daylight in a beige and white pallet with splashes of colour.

The Railway Man is a worthy film that tells its story well but holds back from truly shocking it’s audience. Rather than making a strong, visceral, social comment on the brutality of war per sec, it focuses upon the psychological torment that continues down the years for those who survive. However, because it doesn’t pack the punch I personally felt it needed, with respect to the POW camp, the film becomes a relationship drama. Yet, this is a valid perspective. I suspect those who have tried to assist their husbands or partners with war related night terrors and the psychologically driven changes of personality depicted in The Railway Man, will be pleased to see some level of recognition for their own personal suffering.

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