The career of Colin Firth has taking a lot of different forms. Firth started out back in the mid-80’s, being mainly relegated to supporting roles in more minor work. After playing the lead role in a Pride and Prejudice mini-series, Firth’s career began to gain traction. Shortly after, Firth had strong supporting roles in big time Oscar films in The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love, along with starring in some mainstream British films. Firth continued to work in those roles until recently, when he starred in acclaimed films A Single Man and The King’s Speech, with Firth finally winning an Oscar for the latter.
Since his win, though, it seems like Firth’s career has been losing traction. He has failed to receive a major boost in popularity here in the States, with him failing to land any major roles yet. Aside from being a supporting player in the solid Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, Firth in general has not been in good movies. Both Arthur Newman and Gambit were poorly made flicks, where it seemed like Firth was losing his touch. Thankfully, The Railway Man is evidence of Firth going back to making solid films with this emotionally draining flick.
Based on a true story, The Railway Man follows Eric, a former British officer who begins to be haunted about his experiences as a POW. His solution: confront the man who caused him such suffering.
Usually films these days move at such a lighting fast pace, which works very well for certain of them. The Railway Man, on the other hand, moves at a snail-like pace, which many off the bat write off as a negative quality. The slow pace here was used in a very deliberate way, as the film takes it time letting the horror of these events build in Eric’s mind.
These slower moments are also quite compelling throughout. Seeing Eric battle with his demons as we also witness the struggles he went through in the POW camp always kept me on the edge of my seat. This more understated approach of pacing felt a lot more gratifying to me, and really helps in establishing a great sense of mood and dramatic tension.
Playing Eric is Firth, who really knocks this performance out of the park. In arguably his best performance since the criminally underrated A Single Man, Firth keeps that calm exterior, but with each facial expression, it’s easy to spot his emotional discomfort. Then there are those brief moments where he just explodes, and does so with such gravitas as to make these moments quite effective.
Essentially the conflict in the film is about Eric. The Railway Man presents Eric as this man who is very much haunted by his past events, but still is trying to find a way to move on in his life from said events. This conflict is the thrust of this film throughout, and the main reason this comes together as well as it does is Firth’s performance.
Supporting Firth is an A-grade supporting cast. Nicole Kidman does not have as much to do as you’d think, but it’s great to see her acting again in a great film. Other great supporting acting includes Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada, and a breakout performance by Jeremy Irvine as young Eric. All of these actors display their great talents in their respective roles, especially Irvine who shows great promise going forward.
Leading the way behind the director’s chair is Jonathan Teplitzky. Teplitzky, who directed the stylish Burning Man, has shown a true creativity with visuals even in his early stages as a director. Here, requiring more restrained work, Teplitzky tones down his bold visual flair and gives a very respectable and confident effort. He has the tough task of merging together both Eric’s current day struggles along with showing the flashback scenes of these events, but both are meshed together seamlessly.
From a visual perspective, The Railway Man looks great. Unlike most independent projects, this film has an obvious scale behind it. These POW camps look really genuine with a lot of great detail and filled with hundreds of extras. Shot by cinematographer Garry Phillips, Railway Man has a very beautiful look. From showing the newlywed couple on the beach to hundreds of POW’s working on trains, each shot looks great, helping evoking the feelings of the characters during these respective moments.
While Nicole Kidman gives a good performance in the film, the relationship between her character and Firth needed some work. Their relationship seemed to be a casualty of a loaded screenplay, as it is basically developed and established in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The main thrust of why Eric is trying to move on from his past is because of his love with his newlywed wife, but due to little development, it feels less effective.
The Railway Man is based off of a real story that when I looked it up found quite powerful. To me, the film never quite reached the emotional depth of the true story between Eric and Nagase, the man who caused him such harm and damage. The ending of the film has some weight, but not as much as one would expect from this sort of story. It’s not the kind of wrong-doing that ruins a movie per say, but certainly takes it down from being potentially great.
The Railway Man is a film that may never reach the emotional heights of the true story it’s based on, but is quite an effective true story that features some great performances and effective moments.
Take a Drink: for each character breakdown
Take a Drink: for each shocking moment
Take a Drink: whenever a breathtaking visual appears
Do a Shot (for nerves): during the final confrontation