The memoir of Eric Lomax, a man held as a Prisoner of War and forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway, had the potential to form the basis of an excellent movie. Unfortunately in the hands of director Jonathan Teplitzky it’s a flaccid hodgepodge of sentimentalism and redemption with an overbearing amount of romance crammed in to satisfy its grey haired target audience. The film goes to great lengths to show the impact that those harrowing years had on the central character but in doing so waters down its effects. Over and over again we are shown Lomax as a reserved, quiet man who is screaming on the inside and the more we see it, the less it holds sway. Instead of focus, Teplitzky meanders through the aging Lomax’s mind, boring his audience when he should be shocking them.
The film works using flashback to show tantalising glimpses as to what happened between 1942 and the end of the war and this is when the film is at its strongest. The numerous scenes in later life do little to add to the story before a terrific climax in which Lomax is reunited with the Japanese soldier who tortured him while a prisoner. The elder Lomax is played by Colin Firth who while always watchable, sometimes looks as though on auto pilot. His younger self is an excellent Jeremy Irvine who captures the mannerisms and speech of his older co-star. The remainder of the film is miscast with a doe eyed and wooden Nicole Kidman as Lomax’s long suffering wife and Stellan Skarsgård as his Swedish sounding superior officer. Skarsgård makes no attempt at affecting an English accent despite the strong and pronounced accent of his younger self (Sam Reid). Tanroh Ishida is capable but hardly threatening as the young Japanese torturer who is played by Hiroyuki Sanada in the later scenes.
Something that bothered me from start to finish was the age of the actors and characters. The film is set in 1980, with the POW scenes set between 1942-45. If Lomax and his young torturer were around twenty in 1942 then they’d both be around sixty-two in the 1980s scenes. Neither actor looks remotely close to sixty with both Sanada and Colin Firth a young looking fifty-three years old. Even with a moustache, thick glasses and cardigan you don’t buy Firth as any older than around fifty-five. The casting fails to work anywhere in this movie aside from Irvine who is the one bright star. I found that the period setting of the 1980s scenes also felt wrong with tinges of the 60s mixed with extras sporting modern haircuts. Little if nothing in the 80s scenes work.
When back in the steamy jungle of the mid 1940s, things are slightly better. Lomax is shown to be brave and resourceful and I’d have been more interested in seeing more of this story. In the film’s defence, Bridge Over the River Kwai has already shown this slice of history but because it was so much more successful than the later life scenes, I missed it when we were back in the 1980s. The closing scenes of redemption were well played by Sanada and Firth and there was some weight and tension, even though the ending was never in doubt. The problem is that by the time you get to these scenes you’ve had to sit through an hour of Nicole Kidman looking sad out of a window and Colin Firth studying train timetables. Perhaps I’m just too young to get the film but it felt like a missed opportunity to produce a truly excellent movie about a harrowing and life affirming story.
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