Starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsg?d, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jeremy Irvine; directed by Jonathan Teplitzky; 108 minutes; R for disturbing prisoner of war violence; B
"The Railway Man" is a handsome and tasteful movie about torture and what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Unlike last year's "Act of Killing," which dove into the dark, blurry corners of evil's banality, the new drama makes its targets clear: redemption, love, healing, handkerchiefs. Here you find the right woman, face your demons and all will be OK. Especially if you get a couple of appealing stars to enact the love story.
Colin Firth brings every ounce of his anguished manhood to Eric Lomax, a flummoxed railway enthusiast who falls in love with Nicole Kidman on a train in Scotland in 1980. They exchange charming pleasantries and get married. Soon she realizes her husband is a wreck, tormented by memories of torture inflicted by the Japanese army overseeing construction of the Thai-Burma "Death Railway" during World War II. (The railway construction was also featured in "The Bridge on the River Kwai.")
Eric still lives the memories he's yet to process, and as the film spends more and more time back in 1942, when the young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) and his fellow POWs were put to hard labor blasting rock and laying tracks, we gradually see what he has worked so hard to repress.
The true story on which "The Railway Man" is based carries indisputable inspiration, which is here molded to fit the dramatic rhythms and pat answers of a nutritious, middlebrow film. Kidman's Patti is a nurse who wants Eric to feel better. To feel better he must confront his past. To confront his past he must seek out the man (Hiroyuki Sanada) who once tortured him.
If you can't telegraph the emotional trajectory of "The Railway Man," you probably can't draw a straight line. It's comfort food served with a napkin to sop up the tears.
The movies have long loved stories like this, stories that present a mental obstacle from the past, a love interest to recognize it and a path to remove it. It's hard to fault "The Railway Man" for traveling that same old line.
Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News