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It's really hard to make a bad movie with Colin Firth as your leading man and even harder when you also have Nicole Kidman. Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky had both stars for his first real international project, The Railway Man. The film, based on the true story of World War II POW Eric Lomax, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, but didn't debut in theaters until earlier this year and even then, The Weinstein Company gave the film a very short theatrical run. On Tuesday, the film comes out on Blu-ray through Anchor Bay.
Firth stars as Lomax, a train enthusiast who has spent over 30 years after the war struggling to come to grips with his horrific experiences as a prisoner of war in Southeast Asia, where the Japanese forced him to work on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. One day, he decides to take a different train from his usual one and meets Patti (Kidman), who becomes his wife. At first, it looks like he is finally getting over his past, but it still haunts him. When his friend and fellow former POW Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) discovers that a member of the Japanese team that tortured Lomax is still alive, Lomax heads back with the intention of killing his former captor.
Tiplitzky and screenwriters Frank Cotrell Boyce and Andy Paterson go with a slightly unconventional route to present the story, flashing back and forth between young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) being tortured and older Eric brooding about his pain. They should be commended for keeping the movie short at just 100 minutes or so, but that comes at a cost. We lose some scenes that would have helped us better see older Eric as something more than just a man detached from society, fully without a connection to others until he meets Patti. Perhaps this is actually for the best, because it leaves us in suspense until the last act. Sure, anyone can figure out that Eric isn't really going to kill his captor, so the real tension is how can Eric possibly get to that point. How does one get from A to Z if the journey seems so improbable? This isn't a movie about revenge and instead a film about the search for catharsis.
Firth and Kidman are easily the best parts of the film, putting on a real showcase of their talents. They did get to meet the real Eric, who died in 2012, and Patti, which is pretty clear in their performances. Firth has a real knack for handling serious material and conflicted characters, so he has a way of working that really tells you the emotions a character is going through.
The Japanese actors are also key to the film's success. Hiroyuki Sanada is wonderful in his confrontation with Firth and their moments together show how drastically different post-war life has been for the two sides.
On the technical front, the Anchor Bay Blu-ray release is simply gorgeous, highlighting the film's breathtaking photography. The bonus materials include a commentary from Paterson and Tiplitzky, plus a 25-minute Making Of feature. It has a lot of unnecessary footage from the film in there, but it is nice to hear Kidman and Firth talk lovingly about the real-life people behind the story.
The Railway Man is a hard movie to watch, with torture scenes that are cringe-worthy, but Lomax's story did turn into a good film. It might be easy to write this off as some awards-bait, manipulative drama, but Firth is too good to be ignored. You might not watch it often, but the Blu-ray is worth picking up.
image courtesy of Kristin Callahan/ACE/INFphoto.com