Dealing with severe post-traumatic stress is the theme of this British drama based on the late Eric Lomax's best-selling 1995 autobiographical novel.
Set in Berwick-upon-Tweed in England in 1980, self-professed train enthusiast Lomax (Colin Firth) is a former British Army officer, a signals engineer, who is still haunted by excruciating experiences during his interment at a Japanese labor camp during World War II. Married to an empathetic nurse, Patti (Nicole Kidman), whom he met on a train to Scotland, he discovers that Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), the Japanese soldier who brutally tortured and tormented him, is now working as a tour guide at the same Kempeitai Internment Camp, which became a war museum. That launches vivid memories of his capture in Singapore in 1942 and how young Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) and his fellow prisoners became slave laborers, forced to build Bridge 277 on the Burma-Siam Railroad, nicknamed the "death railway," which later inspired "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
Young Imperial Army translator Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) was a sadist, relentlessly beating emaciated Lomax and subjecting him to a forerunner of water-boarding by attaching a hose to his mouth after Lomax used pilfered parts to build a contraband radio to listen to the BBC.
Intending to wreak long-suppressed, murderous revenge,
elderly Lomax visits the museum, reveals his identity and
proceeds to confront and interrogate Nagase, who doesn't think of himself as a war criminal.
Adapted by Andy Paterson and Frank Cottrell Boyce and perhaps too respectfully directed by Jonathan Teplitzky ("Burning Man"), its dramatic effectiveness is hampered by lack of suspenseful structure and starchy reticence, which not only forces Patti to rely on recollections from fellow P.O.W. Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) but also dilutes Lomax's compassionate forgiveness.
Firth ("The King's Speech") captures Lomax's calibrated emotional repression, as does Irvine ("War Horse"), while Kidman satisfies in a somewhat thankless role.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Railway Man" is an anguished 7, culminating with the surprising consequences of their reunion, which resulted in the documentary "Enemy, My Friend."