“Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself” – Jonathan Teplitzky
Francis Meehan’s The Railway Man is based on the true story of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth). He was an officer in the British Army Signal Corps, assigned to Singapore. When the Japanese attacked the island, then part of the British Empire, the defenders fought on but eventually had no choice but to surrender to the attacking force. Thousands of men were taken prisoner and sent to work on the Burma-Thai railway. Lomax, his best mate “Finlay” (Stellan Skarsgård ) and a few other officers avoid working “up the line” where the conditions are horrific. Instead they are sent to a camp where their advanced skills can be put to good use by their Japanese captors.
They construct a radio and when it is discovered, Lomax steps up and takes all of the blame. He is tortured by the Kempetai (Japanese Military Police) with an officer named Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) handling the interpreting. The brutality leaves him physically broken but he never gives in to give them the confessions and admissions they are seeking. Eventually the Japanese are defeated and Lomax goes home.
Years later, thanks to his obsession with trains and rail schedules, Lomax meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) and they fall in love and marry. Eventually she learns all too well about his post-traumatic stress issues. Only then does he discover that his tormentor is still alive and he resolves to go and confront him, determined to get justice for himself and those who died in the construction camps. He finds him running a war museum in Thailand at the site where Lomax had been abused.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is considered one of the best war films ever made and won a Best Picture Oscar telling the story of British and other Allied military men being mistreated while building the railroad at the root of this film. This is not that story. This is a look at one man, what he endured and how he finally found a way to quell the demons inside of himself, long after the physical damage had healed. He did it with the help of his fellow POW friends, who were as bothered by their shared experiences as he was; and mostly with the love and support of his new wife, portrayed brilliantly by Nicole Kidman. She gives an outstanding performance in this film. Colin Firth tries hard but he just isn’t up to this particular role. He is a tremendous talent and I’m a major fan but this just isn’t his best work. There is brutality in this movie. It is necessary to portray the experiences of the real Eric Lomax. It isn’t gratuitous, but some may find it disturbing. The imagery is nicely done, particularly the shots of trains as they plod along tirelessly.