Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Railway Man

As a young engineer captured by the Japanese in World War II, Eric Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) was forced to work on what is today known as the "Death Railway". Years later, an afflicted Lomax (Colin Firth) is given the opportunity for retribution when a fellow veteran, another POW, locates his tormentor (Hiroyuki Sanada). 

British-Australian film The Railway Man exceeded expectations in numerous ways. 

The Railway Man is a film armoured with cinema veterans (pun intended) Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.Yet somewhat surprisingly, leverage was provided not by either of these distinguished actors but by the young, highly sought-after talent that is Jeremy Irvine. Here Irvine has impressively accommodated a most poignant and affecting film. Being relatively new to the film industry, having only been active since 2009 - Irvine's rise to prominence can be characterised as nothing less than meteoric. The War Horse star has already been lumped into the same category as Colin Firth when in 2011 Vogue named him one of only 10 members of "the Brit Pack" not to mention the youngest. Jeremy Irvine - who portrayed the young Eric Lomax- was surprise #1. What about Irvine's performance I found to be most impressive, were his solid impersonations of Colin Firth - neither over-exaggerated nor understated, here Jeremy Irvine hits the spot.

I revelled in the beauty of the opening sequence - the mumbles of a tormented Eric Lormax. However, what followed was a somewhat dull and tedious recount of the love story central to the film. This is primarily due to the weight of the powerful story being withheld from the viewer for a full half an hour. In the first 30 minutes of the film, we are kept (barely) entertained with a love-struck war veteran who is apparently obsessed with trains. But here, the intended purpose of the director Jonathan Teplizky is perhaps to contrast these mundane dealings of a love affair and its stakes to those experienced by Lomax as a POW. I was able to forgive the slow beginnings of the promising film with one of the most smooth and artistically clever screenplays I have ever come across. This was surprise #2 - the screenplay. Too often, films depicting events in two different eras of time are jumpy and illogical. The audience is left rather perplexed and frustrated, taking attention away from the actual issues being presented on screen.
I marvelled at the eerie passage of Eric Lomax from the quiet happiness of his new-found love to the haunted abyss of his memories. The film escalated gradually, incorporating more and more of the horror which was once the reality for the railway-enthusiast. Being wholly realistic - often painfully so - no flourish was used or needed to exaggerate the notions presented in the film.

Whilst watching The Railway Man I could not help but compare it to the 1997 film Paradise Road. This film - another triumph-over-adversity movie, depicts like The Railway Man, the Prisoners of War, under the capture of the Japanese following the Fall of Singapore. However, while The Railway Man focuses primarily on a single man, and his extraordinary story, Paradise Road illustrates the experience of a group of female POWs. I must say that I compared The Railway Man rather favourably to Paradise Road, as whilst the former essentially uses supreme acting skills as emphasis of a cruel war, the latter is riddled with cheap clichés and is merely a ghost of the film it should have been. Being both a box office flop and garnering largely negative critical attention, it bothered me no end that Paradise Road had been selected for material to be studied by Year 12 Victorian students.

I must say that it is only a week after viewing the film have I come to fully appreciate it, in all its intensity and with the absence of cheap emotional manipulation. The film incorporated a startling and most accurate representation of post-traumatic depression. This film actually managed to utilise its cinematography to illustrate the characteristics of PTD - an aspect which surely resonates with the audience. This was the final surprise. I will forever remember that beautiful 10 seconds of film as Colin Firth walks out of his wedding reception and into the eerie wake of his Prisoner of War camp. 

The Railway Man currently has no US distributor but has already been released in limited cinemas around Australia and Canada and is to be released in the UK and New Zealand in January. 


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