Sunday, August 10, 2014

Blu-ray/DVDebut: the Teplitzky/Boyce/Paterson adaptation of Eric Lomax's THE RAILWAY MAN

"The Japanese: such a cruel race." That line from the film version of Bridget Jones' Diary, spoken by Gemma Jones with utter panache and impeccable breeding, immediately entered my pantheon of hilarious movie moments. The line came to mind again, for very different reasons, during my viewing of THE RAILWAY MAN, the screen adaptation of Eric Lomax's popular book about his own experiences in WWII, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky from a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson. What a story here unfolds: the war, specifically the war in the Pacific, together with the imprisonment, torture and killing inflicted by the Japanese on, in this case, some young and not-so-young men in the British military.

Not having read the book, I can only comment on the quite lovely-to-look-at movie that has resulted, featuring fine performances from the always exceptional Colin Firth and the almost always good Nicole Kidman, and excellent ones, too, from Stellan Skarsgård and, as the fellow who pays the younger version of Firth, the well-chosen Jeremy Irvine. As directed by Mr. Teplitzky (shown at right, who directed 2011's interesting Burning Man), the film begins very well, as it moves back and forth in time from WWII to several decades later, during which the post-traumatic stress endured by the characters played by Firth and Skarsgård becomes nearly unendurable.

The film works so well in its initial stages, as Lomax and his wife-to-be (above) meet, fall in love and marry, and we learn of the dreadful things that happened to the younger character and his comrades (below) in the war, that the movie builds beautifully a real head of steam that eventually takes us to a place where we begin to understand why some ex-soldiers can never talk about what they went through in wartime, for fear of complete collapse into horror and madness.

The movie eventually reaches the point that we've been waiting for, in which Lomax has the opportunity to meet again, after all these decades, the Japanese man who helped instigate and facilitate his torture. What will happen -- retribution, reconciliation, redemption?

These three "re" words are quite popular with moviemakers these days, and for good reason. Two of them provide the kind of feel-good experience many audiences dearly love, while the third -- retribution -- offers the vengeance other audiences crave. (Often it's the same audience: We can love revenge and forgiveness, too!)

The Railway Man appears to be offering all three of these pleasures, but it pulls its punches on each. Without giving away spoilers, I'll just say that, for me, the movie simply withered, the closer it came to its final resting place. It begins to plod, just when it needs to soar.

This is because the filmmaker has not found the specific filmic vocabulary for reconciliation and redemption. He's filled his film with great natural beauty, but this isn't enough. He and his screenwriters have not given the actors the specifics required via dialog and visuals to make the huge but necessary leap required.

We understand what is happening, all right, but it's all too easy and obvious. The depth of feeling, of experience, of understanding, is still missing. Which is too bad because there is still much to love about The Railway Man, which is worth a watch if you'll just tamp down those expectations. Unless, of course, you are one of those for whom redemption and "redumbtion" are a little too closely related.

Meanwhile, you can see the movie, running 116 minutes, in a sterling Blu-ray transfer or on DVD this coming Tuesday, August 12, when its hits the street via TWC and Anchor Bay Entertainment

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