Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) served as a signals officer in the British Army during World War II. His unit was dispatched to the Pacific theater where it was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in 1942.
The members of the unit soon became part of the 60,000+ prisoners of war who were forced to build the Burma Railway that stretched from Bangkok to Rangoon. The Allies came to call the 258-mile construction the Death Railway, because so many soldiers perished along the way, including 6,318 of Lomax’s fellow Britains who were pressed into slave labor by their barbaric captors.
Their grueling ordeal has been made into the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, the Academy Award winning classic that starred Sir Alec Guinness and that swept the Oscars in 1958. The fictional adventure movie was about the daring exploits of some heroic saboteurs in the face of overwhelming odds.
In contrast, The Railway Man is an introspective movie. This poignant character study is based on Lomax’s moving memoir of the same name. And although he survived the war, he remained mentally scarred many long years after his physical wounds had healed.
Lomax had been subjected to unspeakable torture that ranged from brutal beatings to waterboarding, most of which was at the direction of one particularly sadistic interrogator, Nagase Takeshi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Eric had aroused the suspicion of the Japanese when he was caught with detailed drawings of sections of the railroad on which he was working.
Eric had always been fascinated by trains while growing up in Edinburgh and had sketched such maps throughout his childhood. Nonetheless the suspicious Nagase suspected Eric of making plans to sabotage the railroad and so the punishment escalated.
When the war ended, Lomax returned home a broken man who was unable to readjust to civilian life. Although he could commiserate with former platoon mates at the veterans club, nonetheless the memories of Burma continued to haunt him.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (Better than Sex), The Railway Man is a heartrending, flashback film set both during World War II and in 1980 which is when Lomax’s wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman), urged him to track down Nagase. She hoped that a meeting might help her traumatized husband exorcise his demons and hopefully recover from his severe psychological afflictions.
Eric’s ensuing search for his torturer inexorably leads to a confrontation with the tormentor, whose face he’d never been able to erase from his mind. However, the question is whether he’ll choose revenge or reconciliation.
Excellent (****). Rated R for disturbing violence. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.