Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie review - The Railway Man

I don't go to the movies very often - it wasn't really part of my growing up, though I do have a vague memory of seeing Disney movies with my dad when I was little.  So I continue that tradition; when I go to the movies, it's generally to see a Disney movie (or Pixar or the Muppets, so I guess it's good that Disney bought them).  I did see the Harry Potter movies on the big screen, and I like a lot of British films (especially adapted from Shakespeare, Austen or Bronte) but other than that?  Just not particularly my thing.  But a friend from grad school and I generally try to catch the newest Colin Firth flick when it hits the big screen, and so last night, we went to see The Railway Man.  I thought I'd try my hand at a movie review - let's see how it goes!

The Railway Man is only playing on two screens in New York and one of them is the Paris.  I actually don't enjoy seeing movies at the Paris - the seats are massively uncomfortable.  They're so worn, you're practically sitting on the floor - and the floor in a movie theater is ick-ee.  But the theater was relatively empty and the audiences at the Paris are generally pleasant and respectful moviegoers, so there's always that.

This movie tells the story of Eric Lomax, a British Army veteran who is tormented by the torture he received at the hands of the Japanese after he was captured during WWII.  Colin Firth plays the mature Eric Lomax, and Jeremy Irvine plays Lomax as the young soldier trying to live through the war.  Both performances are excellent, as are the performances by Stellan Skaarsgard as a friend and fellow veteran, Nicole Kidman as Lomax's sensitive wife, and Hiroyuki Sanada as the older version of one of the members of the Japanese army.

If you know anything about Eric Lomax's story, the following thoughts will be familiar.  But if you don't, spoilers abound.  After living for years with post-traumatic stress syndrome, Lomax is finally forced into action when a fellow veteran dies.  They discovered that one of the Japanese army torturers is still alive and Lomax goes back to confront him.  The film relied heavily on flashback, as these kinds of war movies generally do, and it was effective holding the worst flashbacks for the scenes where Firth goes back to the actual room where the most horrible things happened to him. Those scenes were beautifully acted and tremendously moving, if a little too graphic for my tastes.  All the torture scenes are harrowing and I frequently had to close my eyes at the graphic horror of what was being depicted.  And when Firth brings Nicole Kidman as his wife to see where he lived and how he has finally come to terms with things, I was a puddle of tears.  If I didn't know this was a true story, I would've found the plot unbelievable.  It still is, but for different reasons, knowing the ending is fact.

The performances were all excellent and I was very taken with the musical score, though I don't think it was necessarily a great movie, per se.  It was a little pedestrian and rather relied on the awfulness of the story to get you past the fact that the way the film was put together was a little too passive.  If that even makes sense.  At times, I liked the rather dispassionate tone, but I think a more incisive director could've mined more out of the story, if not the performances (which were first-rate).

Anyway, this is definitely a story worth knowing, but I'm not necessarily sure The Railway Man is a movie worth seeing, unless you're an uber-Colin-Firth fan, like me and my grad school pal.  Variety said there's a documentary in existence and that might be worth checking out...

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