Railway Man, The (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a look at the World War II POW story starring Colin Firth...
Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman star in the autobiography of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), a British Army officer who is captured by the Japanese during WWII and sent to a POW camp, where he is tormented and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. Decades later, still suffering the trauma of his wartime experiences, Lomax and his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) discover that the Japanese interpreter responsible for much of his treatment is still alive and set out to confront him. (Adapted from the Anchor Bay synopsis)
The most recent Colin Firth roles I've seen are A Single Man and The King's Speech. Now that I've experienced The Railway Man I can't help but feel like Firth loves playing wounded, sensitive characters. At least he's really good at it. Here he plays the role of Eric Lomax, a man who is physically and psychologically beaten down. When we meet him he is a calm middle aged man who loves trains, encountering a woman named Patti that he has completely fallen for. The two get along effortlessly, but as their relationship develops Patti learns through a friend that Eric is still suffering from a trauma in his history. On any ordinary day, Eric will often find himself having intense flashbacks of the time he spent in a POW camp being tortured by Japanese soldiers.
This is where the story begins to move back and forth between Eric's current life with Patti and his time spent in the POW camp. Young Eric is played by Jeremy Irvine, who does a very convincing take on Colin Firth's voice and mannerisms. Sadly, the transitions back in time are clumsily interwoven with the present day. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why it doesn't work so well, but the pacing feels all wrong. We either get too quick of a glimpse, or we spend so much time with young Eric that we feel completely removed from the present day Eric when the screenplay comes back around. All of this story is building to a present day confrontation between Eric and the Japanese interpreter responsible for much of his torture, Nagase.
The screenplay is once again weak in revealing that Nagase is still alive when a friend of Eric's (an underutilized Stellan Skarsgård) hands him a newspaper article with all the information he will ever need. With that, Eric sets off. When the two men finally meet again face to face in the very camp where Eric was tortured, the drama sadly fizzles. The tension and eventual reconciliation are hardly felt. It's a shame, because the true story of what ultimately ends up happening between these men is very interesting and touching. I have to get credit to Colin Firth for a great performance that deserves a better movie. The director, Jonathan Teplitzky, also deserves some credit for trying weird and interesting things with the screenplay to keep this from being a standard, slog of a biopic. Sadly these experimental touches end up hurting the emotional core of the story.
Filmed on the Arri Alexa digital camera, The Railway Man makes for a sharp and vibrant 1080p transfers on Blu-ray. Detail is especially impressive, right down to the weird mustache hairs on Colin Firth's face (don't worry, he shaves). The cinematography has some typical uses of color. The happier scenes with present day Eric are warm and inviting. The bleak scenes have a much more cool look to them. The flashbacks are mostly warm to simulate the hot, brutal environment. More often than not the movie looks quite good, though cinematographer Garry Phillips seems to have a love for some of those weird off-center compositions that you find in a Tom Hooper movie. Luckily they are small in number and free of wonky canted angles. The artefact I noticed is that some objects in the background of certain scenes had jagged edges on them, like the image had been scaled or interlaced at some point. It isn't very distracting and never effects anything in the foreground though.
Though it was a small release film, The Railway Man has the audio mix of a much bigger war production. Sound mixing is used very effectively early on to disperse dreadful noise during Eric's intense flashbacks and visions. It is loud and harrowing and may have raised a few goosebumps on me. The wartime scenes, though seemingly small on screen, feature a good variety of battlefield noise in the form of distant explosions and vehicles passing by. The surround channels are very lively at these times and your subwoofer will get a decent workout from consistent low rumblings. Dialogue is easy to make out even in the noisiest of settings.
Special features include an Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Jonathan Teplitzky and Co-Writer/Producer Andy Paterson. There's also The Making of The Railway Man (HD, 26:07). This feature feels made for a half-hour slot on television, playing like it is trying to convince you to see the film. It plays rather oddly, serving as part making-of and part history lesson. There's interview footage with Firth, Kidman, and director Jonathan Teplitzky. Getting to see the real Eric Lomax and Colin Firth talking is a nice highlight.
Apparently an encounter between Lomax and Nagase was filmed for a TV documentary and won multiple awards. I would've loved to see this but sadly it is not included in this release.
The Railway Man is a well-intentioned but sadly ineffective drama, despite a great performance from Colin Firth. While it didn't move me, I am happy that I saw it. It put a fascinating true story on my radar. Extras are light on this Blu-ray release, but fans can look forward to a very strong AV presentation.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 12th August 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Commentary with Director/Writer Jonathan Teplitzky and Co-writer/Producer Andy Paterson, The Making of The Railway Man
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård
Length: 108 minutes
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