Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Railway Man

It's been a weird Spring. I mean, Spring is always a little weird for movies, since it lasts from about the end of Oscars (March 1st-ish) to the first Friday in May (the 2nd, this year). And in this little narrow space go all the flicks that don't fit into the summer scheme of things, but that which aren't considered likely award candidates for next year.

In this particular Spring, however, there are all these movies that look interesting, and some that look like pure award bait—but which end up horribly received by critics and audiences. Like Walking With The Enemy, which looks to be an amazing story of a guy who pretends to be a Nazi to rescue his family from the Germans in WWII, has been hovering around 50% at Rotten Tomatoes since it came out.

The Railway Man was modestly reviewed (hovering around 70%), but it was our best bet, so The Boy and I gamely trundled off to see it.

And it's really quite good!

The story concerns Eric (the always sensitive Colin Firth) who seems like a nerdy fellow greatly interested in trains. And who, in fact, uses his mastery of trains to woo the lovely Patti (Nicole Kidman). But we quickly learn that his apparent nerdiness originates in his wartime experiences, and are far deeper than occasional social awkwardness.

Eric's pal Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) is similarly distraught, though not particularly informative. Most of what we learn is told in flashbacks, where the young Eric (Jeremy Irvine, War Horse, Great Expectations) and Finlay (Sam Reid) are captured in the South Pacific and enslaved by the Japanese to build a railway.

In this earlier time, Eric's love of railways lands him in no small trouble, as the increasingly paranoid and brutal Japanese mistake his interest for espionage.

Which may be, come to think of it, why the critics are so meh about this film: It portrays the Japanese as brutal monsters. And, though it doesn't come close to showing the true extent of their brutality in WWII, it's enough to make the white guilt kick in, I suppose.

But really, the principals are doing what they do best: Firth is tormented, barely functional and yet impossibly appealing to women. Kidman is super-girlfriend/wife who refuses to just let him work it out for himself. Skarsgard is the brooding guy whose nationality is whatever, but who just has to be Swedish given how dark he is. And Irvine is the bright-eyed young fellow whom the world is about to kick in the teeth repeatedly till he ends up looking like Colin Firth.

Good acting. Fine direction. At first the telling of the story in flashbacks was a little jarring but, I think, primarily because you're not sure what sort of movie it is going in. It's really kind of a PTSD movie.

They could've stayed in present time, but the flashbacks give you some sense of what Eric endured. Frankly, I've seen enough movies that consisted entirely of Firth staring sensitively off into the distance, however good he is at it.

The Boy was very pleasantly surprised, as was I. It's an engaging, even uplifting story, and it's based on the stories of Eric Lomax, much like Bridge on the River Kwai was. (OK, it's not Kwai level, certainly, but it's a story worth telling.)

Surprise Spring recommendation from Casa 'strom.

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