"Railroad Man" Intensely Explores War Crimes and the Demons that Persist in Life

by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
"Railroad Man" Intensely Explores War Crimes and the Demons that Persist in Life

Vowing to remain a “soldier not a slave,” young Eric Lomax (Collin Firth/Jeremy Irvine)  a group of British army officers are “drafted” by their Prisoner of War status for an impossible toil --- sweating their way along the dusty, rocky pathway that would become the  Thai/Burma line.

Evoking thoughts of  David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” Lomax and his fellow British troops encounter brutal conditions. The slightest infraction in protocol means a swatting. More serious rule violations mean treats of “you’re going to be killed.” Most want to meet their Maker. Branded a “spy” for building a receive only radio , his Japanese captors (among them  Takeshi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada)  beat, break bones, and torture in a dark room using waterboarding.

The title hints little of its World War II themes, which include “shell shock” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, i.e. P.T.S.D.) . As   his wife Patti (Nichole Kidman) battles to help him beyond the hallucinations, nightmares, and breaking object fits, his recovery road points to a return to battle: The man who tortured him is making big bucks delivering “tours” of the infamous camp that took his hope and humanity.

Seguing between the 1940s and the 1980s has mixed results.  As he mind grapples, the time frames occasionally stumble. Perhaps , a more appropriate method would have been to switch form black and white (40s) to color footage (80s) or some hints thereof. Still, “Railroad Man” stresses the emotional suffering from participating and observing the horrors of war. Called “shell shock” then, the Viet Nam era kept it veiled, and those returning from Iran and Afghanistan face acceptance at the home front, yet lacking prompt, appropriate medical and psychological intervention many veterans already back in the homeland again visit foreign lands at the snap of a firecracker.

Kidman , in her best role in years, encourages her new husband to take hold of his malady. She’s equally loving, passionate and tolerant. They seldom quarrel.  Without her solid kisses , embraces and “stand by her man,” Lomax might not have had the stable courage to return to the land where all but his life was wiped from his heart and mind.

Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech,” “Tinker, Tinker Tailor Spy”) muses as a physical fragility bound by honor and cerebral gifts enduring calculated broken bone beatings, excruciating emotional pains, and the terrors of waterboarding. The latter, for which the United States has been accused of inflicting unofficially upon uncharged terrorists, confronts viewers with the technique designed to extract confessions to end the endless near drowning.

Intriguingly, Lomax after  progressively retaliating against his torturer ,  Takeshi Nagase, who appears to have regret for his actions finds himself in an quandary. Does he believe that this man who brought all the horror in his life was just serving his country (the Japan) and now regrets nearly all of his “following orders” in the name of his country?

Nagase praises Lomax for his strength that he “never surrendered” despite the torture. To which Lomax remarks, “I’m still at war.”

Based on a book by the same name, the two men were honored at a dinner in the heartland of the United States. An individual who attended that celebration vetting the two as having forgiven each other, through a “just serving your country” and “doing your job”  ability to separate willful from programmed conduct.

A viciously vivid film , this drama will deliver insight into individual hearts, the importance of emotional support (in recoveries) and find you (like me) asking a challenging question --- how do you know when to forgive your oppressor?

It’s playing at Marquee Cinemas (selected) and GHTC’s Park Place Stadium Cinema.  This is a journey of which significant others and family members (as well as the victims themselves) deserve to take as therapy in confronting the demons from the past that have frozen many on endless replays of the worst moments of their time on the planet.

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