Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Eric Lomax (Firth) is a railway enthusiast. While travelling from Crewe to Edinburgh by train, he meets Patti (Kidman), who is beguiled by his tremendous knowledge of the railway and the places they pass. Tracking her down after the journey, the pair marry and settle down together, but Lomax is haunted by vivid dreams of his time serving in Singapore at the end of World War 2. Learning from his friend (Skarsgard) that he and Lomax (Irvine in flashback) had been captured by the Japanese forces and set to work on building a railway in Burma, Patti tries to get her husband to tell her what happened to him there. And when Eric learns that the man (Sanada) responsible for the atrocities inflicted upon him is still alive, he is forced to decide between revenge and forgiveness.
Kidman's performance as Patti is mediocre. Loathe though I am to say it as Kidman's greatest fan, she is miscast here. As one of Hollywood's biggest stars, her presence in the film is distracting. Her character isn't as central to the plot as you would expect from such a star and were I casting the movie, I would have billed this as 'The Colin Firth Show', instead of sharing the billing with a pretty bland and thankless part for Kidman. She is charming as Patti and her character is the emotional centre of the film, giving Lomax the hope to carry on, but I felt I was watching her going through the motions in a passionless and average performance, with nothing to really get her teeth into.
The problem with the film overall is that its time spent examining the aftermath in England, which takes about half of the film, lacks any real pace to it. Everything based in Asia in either the past or present is beautifully shot, driven by a frenetic urgency and executed with a confident filmic flair, while the life we see in England is slow and drab and boring. I know that this is a deliberate choice, really driving home the point of the movie, but I found myself not caring as much as maybe I should as a result. However, there is enough of Lomax's past to make this not really matter as much. However, there are films that get this balance between past and present better (The Reader, The English Patient, Sophie's Choice), so the film will never stand out from the shadow of much finer and better films. There's nothing wrong with the The Railway Man really, not significantly at least, but I was hardly blown away either by its subject or its execution.
I'm always one to advocate seeing a film in the cinema, watching it in the format in which the director intended, but really this is a "wait for DVD" movie. I went to see it out of curiosity because of Kidman, but for other Nicole fans this will be a bit of a disappointment. For it to be released in the middle of Oscar season shows that someone at least has some faith in it, but it won't make any ripples of note. I was entertained, I was educated and I felt appalled by the horrors of war: job done, boxes ticked, congratulations all round. It's not a film that will live with me for long though. Which is a shame really, for the real life Lomax's sake.