Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Hiroyuki Sanada
(R, 116 min.)
Genre: Drama, Biography
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Captain America for the senior set – British version. Not the clichéd variety, where aging actionheroes or even Masterpiece Theater legends kick butt right up there with the rest of them. This film is about forgiving your enemy not conquering him.
Yet The Railway Man is no exercise in self-righteous pacifism. It is about wounds deeper than the flesh inflicted on the ones who wield the sword as well as the ones who taste its pain. Based on a true story about a British officer who is captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War II, the film depicts his spiritual and physical journey to confront his tormentor years later.
Through flashbacks we learn of the young soldier’s capture when the British surrender to the Japanese in Singapore. Young Eric Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) is one of the lucky ones. He is an engineer and will help plan the Thai-Burma Railway, the so called “death railway,” rather than labor through the searing heat, the unbearable humidity, or the dysentery and cholera his fellow POWs do in forced labor, over 12 thousand dying on the project.
Yet Lomax is a train enthusiast, as he calls himself, and cannot help but marvel at the attempted feat, although he is knowledgeable and realistic enough to know almost all railroads are built on either slave or forced labor.
When he and his fellow engineers build a tiny radio to keep up with the war news, they are suspected of espionage. Lomax stops his fellows from further beatings when he steps forward to take responsibility for the plan himself. As his friend Finlay says years later, “That was the bravest act I’ve ever witnessed.”
We view all this through an aged lens some fifty years later when the shy railway man (Colin Firth as the older Lomax) falls in love, fittingly enough, with Patti (Nicole Kidman), a woman he meets aboard a train. The courting conversation involves railway tables, but the subtext between the middle-aged couple is nothing short of the love wallop between teens Romeo and Juliet.
They part, but Lomax uses a railway table to predict where to find her, and shows up with some subterfuge about waiting for a train there, which Patti dismisses with shy confidence: “This is the end of the line. There are no trains that leave from here.”
He cooks her a dinner; she kisses him experimentally:
“I always wanted to know what it felt like to kiss a man with a mustache.”
“Did you like it?”
“I don’t think I will kiss a man with a mustache ever again.”
Lomax is clean-shaven at the wedding that follows rather closely. At that age one does not have excess time to indulge in long courtships. However sudden and deep their love, though, nothing prepares Patti for the crumpled heap of a man she encounters on their honeymoon. Eric is still a victim of his 50-year-old war trauma.
Ultimately, Patti approves his journey all the way back to Thailand to finally confront his tormentor, Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), once an for all, not knowing if it will end in violence, and whether or not it will multiply or diminish her husband’s trauma.
Much of the film’s excellence comes from the truth of its telling, although some facts are condensed or modified. The screenwriters are reined in from most self-destructive urges of excess sentimentality or melodrama, although some of the less mature critics are uncomfortable without the usual Hollywood hype.
But it is the nuanced acting that sets this film apart. Nicole Kidman loses the Moulin Rouge glamour, her flaming locks cropped a mousey brown and half the time hidden under her hat. Yet the actress is more real and convincing as the loving wife here than in her earlier roles as Hollywood’s leading lady, Mrs. Tom Cruise. Her nurse’s soft blue eyes reflect someone who has seen enough physical suffering to face the psychological version face on.
Colin Firth brings his older Eric Lomax the same human complexity and flinty courage he did the stuttering king in his Oscar winning 2010 The King’s Speech. He awes us with his anguished nightmares where the blurred lines of truth and illusion deceive the audience as well as Lomax, but it is the shy yet determined lover that bowls us over.
Jeremy Irvine, his younger counterpart – this film echoes The Debt, another war film that juggles two times periods and locales – gives the 22 year old Lomax quiet courage, a man who sees the world as it is but wishes it weren’t so. That rare individual who willingly steps forward into the abyss.
Hiroyuki Sanada imbues his older Nagasse with a fragile inner peace won only after fully embracing his guilt from the war. It is conveyed not so much in words, but through his sensitive face, his eyes, and his voice, all now stripped of all authority except a higher one to which he knows he must answer.
After a summer and its tsunami of breathless spectacle, take time for this delicate tale of love and forgiveness.
This film hits a homerun for Different Drummer. First of all, it is a World War II film, not so much about the war itself, but about its effects and after effects on soldier and civilian alike. The victors and the defeated. The brutalized and the brutalizers.
Secondly, with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in top form, along with Tokyo born Hiroyuki Sanada’s outstanding performance, not to mention a fine ensemble cast, we have an outstanding cast. They act by not acting.
But the coup de grace is the Singapore war setting. A favorite and well-loved destination for this writer, the eclectic city-state has a rich history reflected in its architecture and food.
A modest Buddhist shrine is tucked into the wall of the parking garage, white stucco churches hold court down town and colorful mosques and Hindu temples dot the realms of Little India and Arab Street. The exquisite blending of cultures – British, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian to name a few -- is reflected in the savory cuisine of this sophisticated city.
Now is the perfect time to try some yourself.
Singapore Fried Noodles
A Classic Singapore stir-fry. Lots of fresh vegetables, a little minced mutton and high heat. The result? A dish with just a touch of the desired burned flavor. Served with a side dish of fresh cucumber and tomato sauce ... hmm ... heavenly!!!
Thick yellow noodles are fried with minced mutton, potatoes, tomatoes, bean sprouts and served with cucumber.
▪ 1 large sliced green chili
▪ 1 tablespoon freshly ground red chili paste or hot chili sauce
▪ 3 tablespoons tomato sauce
▪ 1 ripe quartered tomato
▪ 1 large boiled and diced potato
▪ 1/4 lb. minced mutton or diced hard bean curd for a vegetarian version
▪ 1 sliced onion
▪ 1/4 cup bean sprouts
▪ 1/4 cup finely sliced cabbage
▪ 1 lb. yellow noodles
▪ 1/4 cup oil
▪ 2 eggs, slightly beaten
▪ Salt and pepper to taste
▪ Sprinkle of sugar, if desired
Heat oil and fry onion well, add minced mutton (or the diced bean curd), tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. Next, throw in noodles and bean sprouts and fry for a short while. Throw in green chilies, red chili and fry briefly. In the center of the wok, heat oil, and put in the eggs, scramble and mix with noodles thoroughly. Season with salt, sugar, tomato sauce and chili sauce.
Served with sliced cucumber and tomato sauce.