• Railway Man, The



    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
    Released on: August 12th, 2014.
    Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
    Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jeremy Irvine
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:


    From 1942 to 1943 the Imperial Japanese Army oversaw the construction of the Burma Railway. The railway line between Thailand and Burma was built using forced labor, including many Allied POWs. The conditions were so grueling, and there were so many casualties, that the line came to be known afterwards as the “Death Railway.” However, this grim state of affairs is hardly the effect given off by the most famous fictionalization of the railway’s construction: Pierre Boulle’s THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. When one thinks back to David Lean’s classic film adaptation, what most people remember is Alec Guinness leading a merry band of British POWs whistling as they work. Although a masterpiece in its own right, Lean’s film is far from a realistic depiction of the conditions that many of these POWs had to endure.

    THE RAILWAY MAN, adapted from Eric Lomax’s autobiographical account of his experiences as a POW on the Burma Railway, functions as a corrective to the Boulle/Lean works. In fact, near the end of Director Jonathan Teplitzky’s film, Eric (Colin Firth) stands on the real-life Bridge on the River Kwai, a not-too-subtle signal that invites the audience to compare Eric’s real-life experiences with RIVER KWAI’s adventure narrative. Although obviously not the tour-de-force of Lean’s film, RAILWAY MAN eschews conventional crowd-pleasing moves in favor of a more introspective, and painful, meditation on suffering, redemption and forgiveness.

    Teplitzky’s film cuts back and forth between two time periods. It begins with an account of a middle-aged Eric (Colin Firth) as he meets and falls in love with a woman named Patti (Nicole Kidman). Ironically, given the eventual revelations about Eric’s past, the two meet on a train car and Patti find’s Eric’s eccentricities endearing. The two quickly become married and move in with each other but Patti soon realizes that Eric is suffering from psychological issues that stem from his experiences during World War II. She is unable to get any information out of her husband but she finds Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård), a fellow ex-POW, willing to tell her information about what Eric went through on the Burma Railway. Patti hopes that by understanding what occurred to Eric in the past, she can help to heal his current suffering.

    Finlay’s narrative reveals that Eric was falsely accused of being a spy and was systematically tortured. In addition to this, Finlay discovers that one of his Japanese interrogators, a translator named Takeshi Nagase, is alive and well and conducting tours on the present-day site of the war-time atrocities. According to Finlay, it is nothing short of a tragedy that a man like Takeshi is able to profit off of his war experience while Eric is plagued with vivid memories of his horrific experiences. Eric decides that the only way to achieve closure is to travel to Thailand and confront his former interrogator and, if necessary, to kill him.

    Although there are moments of torture and sadism throughout, THE RAILWAY MAN is clever in its restraint, often cutting away from violent sequences in a way that heightens their effectiveness. There is a disturbing sequence where Eric is waterboarded and it is a skillfully edited piece of cinema. The visions of forced labor along the Burma Railway are also unsettling and vividly expose the horrific conditions that POWs had to undergo by their Japanese captors. The emaciated figures and haunted expressions on the faces of many of the prisoners will likely linger on in your memory. The filmmakers shot many of these scenes on location and there’s a sense of authenticity about them.

    In keeping with the film’s stylish look, the performances are also on a high level. Colin Firth always delivers quality performances and he’s no different here; his portrayal of a middle-aged man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is sensitive and affecting. Nicole Kidman could easily call attention to herself in a smaller supporting role but she gives a nicely understated turn as Eric’s suffering wife. Special mention should also be given to Hiroyuki Sanada as the older Takeshi Nagase; he more than holds his own in his scenes with Colin Firth when the latter confronts him.

    If there is one glaring fault with THE RAILWAY MAN it is that the film’s climax is never really in any doubt. There are moments near the conclusion of the movie where the filmmakers flirt with the idea of suspense but viewers are unlikely to be fooled. That being said, the concluding scene offers a moment of sentimentality that the film manages to earn and so one can forgive its concession to conventional revenge narratives (compare with Neil Jordan’s execrable THE BRAVE ONE, a notorious example of a “revenge film” that not only holds contempt for the genre but that also tries to cash in on its conventions). THE RAILWAY MAN is highly recommended.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    THE RAILWAY MAN comes to blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay. Their disc offers an immaculate 1080p transfer in its 2.40:1 aspect ratio. As mentioned before, the film is a handsomely mounted production and Anchor Bay’s flawless transfer does a good job showing this to the viewer. The detail in the image is of a high quality, even in nighttime scenes, and the colors are balanced throughout.

    The audio option on Anchor Bay’s blu-ray is a lossless 5.1 DTSHD-MA audio track and it sounds fantastic. The soundtrack contains some generous low-end action, and the rear channel speakers are often reserved for subtle and immersive effects (music, the occasional loud and glaring sound effect). There are no errors to report. Anchor Bay’s disc also offers English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and Spanish Subtitles. A cursory check of the former revealed no spelling errors.

    There are two extras on Anchor Bay’s blu-ray. The first is a 26 minute “Making Of” featurette that touches briefly on the film’s history, its production, and reflections by the cast and crew. Although there are some tidbits of information here, the extra plays like an extended promotional piece, complete with various clips from the film. The second, and by far the more substantial, supplement is a Feature Commentary with Director Jonathan Teplitzky and Co-Writer/Producer Andy Paterson. Both men are relaxed and do a good job giving the viewer information about the film’s production history and its historical background. The track is also interesting in the information it gives about the differences between the film and Eric Lomax’s book.

    The Final World:

    THE RAILWAY MAN is an excellent film that will appeal to World War II buffs and fans of well-acted psychological dramas. Don’t be misled about the film’s deceptive marketing as a revenge thriller – it is more about the psychological scars that war leaves on its participants. Anchor Bay’s blu-ray has a stunning transfer and great sound. Definitely worth a go if you’re interested in the subject matter, and it also works a necessary counterpoint to RIVER KWAI.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!