“My mother was dead, as it happens. All through the war, I wrote letters home to a dead woman.” – Eric, The Railway Man (2013)
Some films are genuinely just so boring that you cannot think of a word to say about them. Couple this with the fact I made these notes almost a month ago, and we’re definitely in for a very big problem. This was the last film I made notes on while ill, and to be quite honest I remember literally nothing. Now I should make sure that it isn’t my fault, because it’s not. The film was genuinely some of the most boring, biopic drivel I have ever seen. After the immensely brilliant Hacksaw Ridge (2016) I was feeling very much in the mood for another war biopic. With, The Railway Man, I chose poorly…
What I like to find important is that, out of all the 150+ films I have reviewed, Colin Firth is one of the four actors that has appeared in more than five. The other three are Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Brad Pitt for anyone wondering. What I have noticed through this practice is that Stellan Skarsgaard will appear in literally anything. Anyways that’s not the issue. Firth is a brilliant actor. He’s quite possibly one of my favourites, but even the best have some filler titles, don’t they? That is what The Railway Man is, then. A Firth filler title with as much aimless pandering and boring character development as you would expect.
As always, when Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman star opposite each other in a film, my hopes are always high. I really enjoyed the dynamic they had in Before I Go To Sleep (2014), but I fear that the chemistry seen there doesn’t transfer to this movie. If anything, Kidman’s performance is wooden. Opposite Firth, she doesn’t pale in comparison especially because Firth also seems to be phoning his performance in. That charming character Firth always seems to be typecast as doesn’t deliver here and it is a genuine shame that it doesn’t work. Throughout the entire film, I was expecting the chemistry to be improved on, but it was not. Not at any point does it pick up or feel enjoyable at all.
One of the main problems with this chemistry is that it isn’t entirely the fault of the actors. No, for the most part the problem I have is with the dialogue. It’s often ham fisted and just in general extremely poor. My main problem with it definitely is the dialogue is quite simply just dull. There’s the traditional escapade of giving some context and then moving on, and this is done over and over. Whoever had the idea that it’d be cool to flashback to the POW camp for literally half the movie should be shot. Because Firth’s character thinks of his time in the camp sometimes we get a good half hour segment of him remembering what it was like. Nothing wrong with a flashback, but there is something wrong with it being half an hour long.
With these flashbacks, there’s a definite break in the overall pacing of the film. My main issue with it is that, one minute we’re growing to enjoy the shaky although solid chemistry between Kidman and Firth. Literally another minute later and they’re married for one reason or another. I will be honest, Firth gives a brilliant performance in one bit of the film when he just has a breakdown out of literally nowhere. Breaking down out of nowhere is something very few people can do, I’m one of them but that’s not relevant to the film.
Obviously the bulk of this film was going to be about Eric’s time in the war, but for me it was the biggest problem of the film. Although the set and character design is great, in execution it doesn’t add up to very much. The mirroring of Eric’s torture when he returns to the camp wasn’t the most interesting thing in the world. Not because it isn’t well acted, but because of the direction, camera work and the constant flashes back to the past. Constantly flicking between young Eric and old Eric really wasn’t the best way to tell the story. Because of this I genuinely did get quite lost off in what the hell was going on. Who was Major York for starters, and why was he so important?
Every now and then I’d look at the screen and just not listen to what was happening. All I’d see was the actors moving their mouths up and down. To be quite honest, not hearing a word of dialogue sort of made the film better. The dialogue is so poor that it genuinely ruins the film to such a large extent. My problem especially is that the film goes from generic romance film to generic war film at the flip of a coin. To be quite honest I’m not sure which of these genres I preferred. Just because both were handled poorly and executed in such a dreadful state.
Some of the cinematography in The Railway Man does actually stand out above others. The opening scene that features the pint glasses is one that sticks out in my mind, however is the only one to do so. Nothing else interesting occurs other than that one scene, and to be fair that one is forgettable at best. The biggest problem this film faces is that it simply doesn’t create an interesting war. There’s nothing that can possibly convince me to keep myself interested in this film and one of the biggest factors is that of the cinematography. My biggest surprise throughout all of this film is how bored I had become. I didn’t see myself getting so bored at any film whatsoever, but here we are.
Look, I understand the film is called The Railway Man but why does he know so much about trains? That’s the least of my worries with this film to be fair. It’s so dull and for someone that loves biopics, this was just simply unbearable. I know for a fact that everyone in this film can give a bloody brilliant performance, but it seems I was wrong this time round. Given the subject matter, I genuinely thought I’d really enjoy this, but evidently not. Colin Firth gives a run of the mill performance alongside a stale Nicole Kidman and a simply dull Stellan Skarsgaard. War films often end on a high note with an overlying feeling of optimism. This one just ends with some poor direction and some flashcards.
Overall then, I’d definitely give The Railway Man a miss unless you’re in the need to watch every single war biopic available for some odd reason. A dull bit of film that is nothing more than filler for my shelf. This conclusion is difficult, because to be quite honest there’s simply nothing I can say that would conclude this review. What can I say about a film that has inspired literally nothing of me? Something just didn’t sit right with this film and to be honest I’m simply not willing to give it the benefit of a second watch. Not even Colin Firth as a PTSD war hero can bring anything new to the table. Ironically for a film about torture, it was a torture to fucking sit through and watch this film.