Based on the true story of the recently deceased Eric Lomax, "The Railway Man" uses Eric's debilitating flashbacks to 1942 to bare the horrors visited upon captured British and Asian soldiers forced by the Japanese to build the Thai-Burma Railway to move battle supplies to Burmese front lines. Treated, as Lomax says, like animals, Eric is singled out for torture and confinement in a dog size cage when the Japanese find a radio receiver he's engineered. In 1980 when Lomax learns that one of his Japanese captors works at a war museum, he travels there intent on revenge. Interior framing in multiple shots visualizes Lomax's entrapment before his restorative journey.
Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky takes some liberties with Lomax's real story to add tension, but the central themes prevail: interrogating the nature of vicious criminal behavior by otherwise intelligent, educated men (as Lomax describes it when confronting his captor Takashi Nagase) and the lasting repercussions of such treatment. As the older Lomax, Colin Firth delivers his characteristic, contained, quietly intense performance. As the younger Eric, Jeremy Irvine has an uncanny resemblance to Firth in his role. Also superb in supporting roles are Nicole Kidman as wife Patti and Stellan Skarsgård as wartime friend Finlay.
Slightly over a year ago, I walked part of this very Thai-Burma railway line and visited the museum there. One exhibit ran film of healthy British prisoners arriving in the Japanese-run camp; footage from a couple months later showed the same men, emaciated versions of their former selves because of the forced-labor conditions--a daily bowl of rice for nourishment causing deaths from starvation and long hours of breaking through rock and the jungle with primitive tools resulting in fatal diseases.
I cite this to note that the barbarous circumstances for these soldiers were as horrific as depicted in "The Railway Man." And yet Eric Lomax's character healed as we hope it will all who embrace reconciliation. At a Landmark Theatre.