13 December 2013 | HelenMary
powerful and emotive WWII autobiographical tale of PTSD and triumph in adversity
Saw this as a test screening some time ago but wasn't allowed to post until it was released, consequently I've not seen the finished film but the test version affected me quite a bit. Based on a true story - Eric Lomax (Firth) - was building the Thai/Burma railway WWII as a POW. The conditions were horrific, treatment atrocious and Lomax clearly suffered PTSD, although it wasn't diagnosed yet - the film was set in the 70s. In an attempt to lay ghosts of his past to rest he travels back to revisit the sites of his incarceration and comes face to face with a Japanese officer from that time who was central to his torture.
It's a grey, period-style, sombre film, there's little in the way of humour and the only colour at the beginning is Nicole Kidman's (more or less extraneous) role as the "love interest." Her role was apparently meant to be played by Rachel Weisz and I think that would have been a better choice, and it bugs me that Kidman is first listing on the credits when Lomax' role is the titular role, and it's HIS book that the film is based on. However, the synopsis puts emphasis on her standing by her man and seeing him through his adversity and she does, and is good in the role she is given, and in that she was well chosen played down in her looks to given some small-town glamour.
It's a slow pace and if you like bells and whistles and CGI rather than real life and emotions then don't bother with this... it's a gripping, sad, heartbreaking and heartwarming tale or triumph over adversity, courage and strength of spirit with an ending that if you don't have a tear in your eye then you are dead inside.
Colin Firth, I think, is well cast and plays stayed, rather eccentric and dull due to his brokenness extremely well. He is fascinated by railways and trains (which is surprising) since his experiences and we meet his love interest on a train. His emotions turn erratically and he suffered terrifying nightmares, working through the pain/suffering of his character with a quiet studied grace. The star turn in my opinion... and all at the test screening agreed... is Hiroyuki Sanada who played Lomax' nemesis as an adult. He had a very challenging role and was superb. He played his role with so much calm that you could believe his conversion experience and he made the tale come alive and be very believable. Nothing he did was superfluous and even the tiniest nuances of his actions were obviously deliberate and perfect, his facial expressions were... oh enough to make me weep in places. I'd like to see him get applauded for it - and will look out for him in other films (eg 47 Ronin). Stellan Skarsgard (always excellent) was good in the role he played but at the test screening we all questioned why someone without a heavy English accent was cast for the role of an English soldier in his middle age when in his young scenes the actor who played Finlay was quintessentially British with no explanation as to why he is suddenly Swedish, "After the war he went to Sweden and has lived there" would have done - maybe they've done that now. His character too was a tragedy, also not coping at all with life after war.
The young actors playing the tough scenes in Japan building the railway had the hardest roles and Jeremy Irvine and Sam Reid did their older selves proud in some quite harrowing scenes, and oftentimes they really did look emaciated, thin and on their last legs. The film pulls no punches but does leave the terrible experience that Lomax suffered as a cliff-hanger to the last.
A powerful film, not for the feint or lighthearted, I fear, but certainly if you are interested in history, and enjoy good performance led character pieces you will find this an excellent cinema-going experience. I do recommend taking something to dry your eyes with and stay to the end to learn about Lomax and Nagase - the real people. The truth in the story adds so much more to the film.