The Railway Man (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner10/01/2014

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 116 mins

The Railway Man has an emotionally gripping final act and features strong performances from Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine, but it's hampered by stodgy direction, some dreadful miscasting and a clunky structure that ends up side-lining Nicole Kidman's character.

What's it all about?
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, The Railway Man is based on a true story and stars Colin Firth as lifelong railway enthusiast Eric Lomax, who meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train journey in 1983 and marries her shortly afterwards. However, Patti soon discovers that Eric is severely traumatised as a result of having been a prisoner of war during WWII, building the so-called Death Railway in Thailand, for the Japanese.

In order to help Eric overcome his trauma, Patti seeks out his friend and fellow ex-POW Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), who reveals the full horror of their experiences (shown in flashback with Jeremy Irvine as the young Eric). With Patti's encouragement, Eric tracks down his former tormentor (Hiroyuki Sanada as Nagase) and heads to Thailand to confront him.

The Good
Colin Firth can do stiff upper-lipped in his sleep, so he's on familiar territory for the first half of the film, but he brings surprising intensity to the emotionally gripping final act, to the point where you seriously wonder if he's going to go full-on Liam Neeson and the film will turn into a violent revenge thriller. In addition, there's strong support from Hiroyuki Sanada, and Jeremy Irvine delivers his best performance to date as the young Eric, nailing Firth's delivery style in convincing fashion.

The Bad
Sadly, the film is hampered by some dreadful miscasting, most notably Stellan Skarsgard as the world's least convincing Scotsman (he doesn't even bother attempting the accent, which makes you wonder why they cast him in the first place). Similarly, Kidman brings an appealing (and deliberate) Brief Encounter vibe to her role as Patti, but there's a distinct lack of chemistry between her and Firth, so their relationship fails to generate the required emotional investment.

On top of that, the film's problematic structure means that Kidman's performance is largely sidelined for the second half and the pacing slows to an interminable crawl in the middle section thanks to Teplitzky's stodgy direction. There are also a number of scenes that don't ring true (such as there being no consequences after Eric attacks a social worker with a knife) and it's impossible to see the film without thinking that the makers have ignored the potentially more interesting angle that emerges as the film's coda.

Worth seeing?
The Railway Man delivers a resonant message and features a pair of strong performances from Firth and Irvine but it's ultimately let down by poor pacing, a flawed structure, distracting miscasting and a handful of scenes that fail to ring true.

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The Railway Man (M)
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Content updated: 13/11/2019 17:57

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