It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Austere and old-fashioned almost to a fault, "The Railway Man" offers tastefully safe treatment of a horrific subject: the torture of a British Army officer at a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.
Director Jonathan Teplitzky’s film remains respectable and restrained until the very end—but the performances are so strong and the ultimate catharsis that occurs is so palpable that it sneaks up on you with an unexpected emotional wallop. This is a true story—or as true as a feature film about anyone's life can be—and it’s one that’s worth telling, with an angle on World War II that movies don’t offer very often.
What’s not surprising is the subtlety Colin Firth finds in playing Eric Lomax, whose autobiography inspired "The Railway Man." (Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson co-wrote the screenplay.) Playing Lomax as a shell of his former self decades after his imprisonment, Firth is both quietly distracted and fitfully tormented. Throughout his career, Firth repeatedly has proven himself to be a master at steadily revealing his characters, and the way his Lomax eventually reclaims his identity before enjoying some redemption is gently stirring.
Lomax also finds some fleeting moments of tentative joy with the love of his life, whom he encounters in middle age: his wife, Patti, played by Nicole Kidman in an underwritten role. Kidman is kind of charming at first as she flirts with and falls for Firth. But in no time, she’s relegated to serving as the teary-eyed wife, listening to what happened to her husband and whispering responses of shock and sadness.