Based on a true story, The Railway Man follows Eric Lomax, a World War II veteran who was taken prisoner by the Japanese and forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway. After building a radio to listen to broadcasts from the outside world, he is found out by his captors and is mercilessly tortured. Years later, his old friend (Stellen Skarsgard) tells him his main torturer (Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive. Now Eric must decide whether to track down and exact revenge on his former captor or to stay and live a normal life with his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman).
The acting in The Railway Man is, predictably, great. Colin Firth pulls out a great performance and Nicole Kidman gives the best acting she given in years. Jeremy Irvine also impresses, now having more personality than his bland, forgettable performance in War Horse. For me, the real standout of the cast was Hiroyuki Sanada, who had such emotion and genuine remorse for what he had done that he made you feel sorry for a man who had committed unspeakable atrocities, which is no easy feat.
My problem with The Railway Man lies in its execution. Everything is 100% textbook. There’s the Oscar moment, there’s the emotional torture moment, there’s the hopeful moment, there’s the sentimental moment. Everything is here and everything is predictable. Its the most shameless example of Oscar pandering since War Horse, and it doesn’t work at all. Its astounding how little creativity is really going on here, and nothing that is done here hasn’t been done before and better.
As a true story WWII drama, this film is decidedly mediocre. It’s generally bland and uninteresting, but it at least had a relatively fast pace and didn’t feel very long. It’s a shame, because this is a tragic story and it could have made a good biopic if it wasn’t so concerned with winning Oscars and showing the horror of war as we’ve seen it a million time before, and was more concerned with developing some interesting characters and really delving deep into their personalities and motivations, it could have worked. But unfortunately we’re left with a nondescript drama that will be quickly forgotten.