Whenever ANZAC day is commemorated we pause to reflect on the horrors of war. The deaths caused and trauma felt by those who survived its ravages have become an important aspect of such remembrances. The Railway Man explores the ongoing post-traumatic stress from a war-time event. Based on a memoir by former British officer Eric Lomax, it effectively exposes how survival can create its own ongoing burdens.
Haunted by the ghosts of his past, Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) seeks to exorcise them. Scarred by his experiences as a POW in Japan during World War 2, he decides to track down one of his tormentors. Aided by his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman), and his friend and fellow POW Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), he finds one of his captors, Japanese officer Takashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Finally receiving the chance to discard his demons, Eric discovers all is not what it seems in his quest for justice.
The Railway Man is an engrossing exploration of redemption and forgiveness. The horrors Lomax faced were brutal and extreme with the scars being carried for a life-time. How he heals them forces a host of moral questions he must answer. His meeting with Takashi offers hope he can move on but their fateful meeting changes them. The performances from Firth and Sanada in these scenes are genuinely gripping – you can feel the emotional depths their characters plunge into.
Aided by this emotional complexity, Jonathan Teplitzky’s direction ensures both men’s journeys are examined. There are no right or wrong absolutes in most conflicts which is something The Railway Man’s characters discover. Whilst occasionally descending into melodrama, the central premise is effectively conveyed. It’s an uncomfortable journey the viewer goes on but the conclusion provides a thoughtful coda to the memories former soldiers carry.
No one should ever forget the sacrifices soldiers made in order for us to live our lives. The Railway Man offers a gripping reminder with a stirring story of the legacy of war and the future soldiers faced when their tour of duty finally came to an end.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 7