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'The Railway Man' review: All the king's horses and all the king's men

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The Railway Man


"The Railway Man" will have a theatrical run in Houston starting today.

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"The Railway Man" is based on a true story and set in England in 1980 where Colin Firth portrays Eric, a middle aged man who has a rabid obsession of trains. Eric meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train solely because he switched routes when his is delayed. The two hit it off and eventually marry, but it doesn't take long for Eric to start pulling away from Patti. He starts becoming more withdrawn and having emotional breakdowns, but won't open up to Patti about the cause of his mental and emotional anguish.

Back in 1942 in Singapore, young Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine) was a soldier in the British army when the Japanese invaded and took over in World War II. Eric was singled out and tortured during his time in the war. The experience was so traumatizing that Eric even shut out his best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) from fully knowing what he went through. It's brought to Eric's attention that the man who tortured him, a translator named Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), is still alive and well. Closure is finally within Eric's grasp.

The opening to this dramatic war film based on the autobiography by Eric Lomax is extremely slow. Witnessing the connection Patti and Eric grow to have with one another is necessary to have any sort of emotional investment in what Eric goes through later on in the film. However that doesn't mean it's completely satisfying. The conversations Eric and Patti have are incredibly boring. They bicker over whether the rice Eric is cooking will leave burn marks on the pan and they mostly discuss Eric's knowledge of trains which loses its appeal approximately 60 seconds after Eric opens his mouth.

The rest of the film is like trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Eric basically retreats into himself, won't talk to anyone, and often has explosive and violent outbursts, so it's up to the film to explain why with flashbacks and multiple conversations between Patti and Finlay. "The Railway Man" does an excellent job playing leapfrog with the past and the present often bridging the gap with something as simple as hearing church bells and its significance in both the past and the present.

Eric dives headfirst into his train-loving hobby without looking back after the war. He tunes in and out of reality spontaneously while the trauma of the war is practically sanity breaking. After the fall of the British Empire, Eric was shoved into a train car with other British soldiers and forced to work for the Japanese. He experienced savage, merciless beatings, crammed into a cage in the blazing hot sun, and put through water torture all for building a simple radio. Seeing the faces of broken men while Eric is being beaten only sells the cruelty Eric went through.

"The Railway Man" is kind of like the "Jacob's Ladder" of dramatic war films if you tone down the horror aspect and crank up the dramatic factor. Eric's journey is a blurred line between psychosomatic illusionary nightmares and a distorted reality. "The Railway Man" is a shell-shocked, war induced, hallucinogenic fever dream driven by life altering torture and the emotional powerhouse performance of Colin Firth.


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