The Railway Man
Runtime 108 minutes.
Not for children.
Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce says, “It’s hard to make any film, but The Railway Man was particularly hard.” Hard as it might have been to write and produce, it is equally hard to watch.
Almost half a century ago, David Lean made The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) based on Pierre Boule’s novel about the Japanese brutality in building railway (in fact there was no bridge and there was no river Kwai, and the film was shot in Ceylon). Although he showed Alec Guinness being tortured by being put in a metal cage in the sun, which drove him loony, the film doesn’t begin to capture the dreadfulness and inhumane discomfort endured by the workers.
Based on Eric Lomax’s book about what happened to him, Director Jonathan Teplitzky filmed in Scotland and on part of the actual death railway in Thailand which was 258 miles long between Bangkok and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myhanmar) reclaimed from the jungle. The line was closed in 1947 but the section between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok was reopened in 1957. About 180,000 Asian civilian laborers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war worked on the railway. Of these, around 90,000 Asian civilian laborers and 12,399 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans, and about 20 POWs from other British Commonwealth countries.
Contrary to Lean’s fictional, Hollywood approach (Lomax, commenting on Lean’s film, said he had never seen such well-fed POWs), at first what happened to Lomax (Colin Firth) is left to our imagination. But Teplitzky shows the horror of the slave labor forced by the Japanese’s upon their POWs and other slave laborers in building the railway to be far worse than what Lean showed in 1957. The Japanese brutality and the heat and hopelessness of their labors are excruciatingly captured.
But this is the true story of one man, Lomax, and how he survived the brutality and inhumanity of the Japanese and the post-traumatic stress that followed the end of the war, and Teplitzky eventually shows what he was forced to endure, and it was heroic. This is a compelling tale of how Lomax faced his demons after the war with the help of the love and understanding of his wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman). In his book, however, Lomax barely mentions Patti. Teplitzky realized that but for her, what happened in the film would probably never have occurred, so he gives her a much bigger part in the film than Lomax did in his book. Kidman gives a fine performance, but Firth is exceptional as the damaged Lomax.
I’ve written before about how horrible the Japanese were to the people they conquered and how they have never apologized or tried to make amends (see tonymedley.com/Articles/Japanese_and_the_Comfort_Women.htm, and tonymedley.com/ Articles/ Rape_and_Japanese_Hypocrisy.htm), so how Lomax dealt with his most vicious captor decades later is interesting and enormously powerful.
While Lomax was involved in the making of the film to a certain extent, and while both Firth and Kidman dined with him near the end of the shoot, he died shortly before the film wrapped, so never got to see it.
Runtime 90 minutes.
Not for children.
If this is not the worst Woody Allen movie I’ve ever seen, it’s not far off, and that’s saying a lot. To give Woody credit, though, he neither wrote nor directed. That ignominy must go to John Turturro, who also stars as the gigolo (let’s be frank; he’s a male prostitute). But Woody has written enough scripts to know that this one is a dog.
Worse, Woody’s acting can sometimes be enormously annoying, but never more so than here where he’s an elderly Jewish man living with a black woman and her four black children. His constant whining voice becomes as bad as fingernails across a blackboard.
Turturro is an old friend who is hard up, so Woody suggests that he pimp for Turturro, arranging paid assignations with people like Sharon Stone, who should know better (and who looks even more beautiful now than when she was younger), Vanessa Paradis (a French international singing star who received a César nomination for Best Actress in 1999’s Girl on the Bridge), who is beautiful but inscrutable, and Sofia Vergara, a gorgeous Hispanic actress probably best known for her role in the TV series Modern Family, who is the third part of the ménage a trois Woody arranges for Turturro with Sharon Stone, wearing a neckline that plunges interminably. Also along for the ride is a policeman in some sort of private police force in a Jewish neighborhood, Liev Schreiber, who has the hots for Vanessa (who wouldn’t?).
Wasted in a small role is Bob Balaban, an actor I generally enjoy. Many will recognize him from his role in Seinfeld as the head of NBC.
What’s hard to believe is that this thing is only 90 minutes long. I’ve rarely looked at my watch more in any film, except maybe Spielberg’s Lincoln, which will stand for a long time as the most boring movie made this century, although this comes close as Woody mutters his way through and Turturro wanders around like he’s in a daze.
My advice to Woody is, stick to movies you write and direct and stay out of them as an actor.