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Review and Roundup: Weinstein Acquisition 'The Railway Man,' Starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood September 12, 2013 at 3:38PM

The Weinstein Company recently closed a deal for US rights to "The Railway Man," starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The film is directed by Aussie Jonathan Teplitzsky, and centers on a World War II veteran who tracks down the wartime men who tortured him. Per THR, it's a $2 million buy.
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Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in "The Railway Man"
Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in "The Railway Man"

The Weinstein Company recently closed a deal for U.S. rights to "The Railway Man," starring TWC Oscar faves Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") and Nicole Kidman ("The Hours"), which premiered at TIFF on September 6. The film is directed by Aussie Jonathan Teplitzsky, and centers on a World War II veteran (Firth) with post-traumatic stress disorder who returns to the site of his wartime torture. Per THR, it's a $2 million buy.

The film is based on the true story of Eric Lomax, who was captured by Japanese troops and forced to labor on the Thailand Death Railway. But while the film is well-mounted and these superb actors give their all, it's a straight-on telling of a story familiar to anyone who has seen David Lean's "Bridge on the River Kwai." This conventional narrative cannot compete with that classic.

Here's what some early reviews are saying:

Guardian:

So a cosy love story suddenly plunges into the horrors of war, as we see the Hades-like conditions endured by Lomax (played in younger years by a never-better Jeremy Irvine), and then modulates again, to a complex study in vengeance. From time to time, the script contextualises a little clumsily - "Lomax, my friend, I think we just witnessed the fall of the British empire," said the young Finlay, as they watch the Japanese invade - but the playing and pacing are terrific.

Teplitzky finishes with a kind of catharsis rarely on offer: meek and deeply felt, a mature and moving exorcism.

Hollywood Reporter:

An old-fashioned war drama stuffed into a cumbersomely choppy time structure, The Railway Man is well-acted and handsomely produced, but its honorable intentions are not matched with sustained emotional impact or psychological suspense. The film boasts committed work from Colin Firth as a British train enthusiast profoundly damaged by his experience as a prisoner of war, along with tearful support from Nicole Kidman as his wife. But despite those deluxe elements, it never quite transcends its stodgy approach.

Variety:

Offering closure to a less-told chapter of World War II history, “The Railway Man” retraces the tracks of an exceptional man’s life, as former British soldier Eric Lomax confronts the Japanese officer who tortured him as a prisoner of war nearly four decades earlier. This overly stodgy true story brought audiences first to tears and later to their feet for a rousing standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival with its placid, postcard-worthy view of how men of a certain generation cope with deep emotional scars, tenderly acted by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, as Lomax and the woman who inspired his healing.

Telegraph:

There's no knocking Firth, and Kidman – whose scared demeanour and accent slightly recall her performance in The Others – is an expert coaxer: it falls to Patti to help Eric unlock the memories of this trauma and nudge him towards closure. The film's main problem, in a way, is a comparable starchiness: you could think of it as The Reader cinema – polished and diagrammatic, with a slightly nervous degree of dutiful prestige.

The Playlist:

Ultimately, "The Railway Man" is as much about the strength it takes to accept the past as it is about the honor it takes to forgive someone, no matter how cruel the crime. "War leaves a mark," Finlay says, but whether that scar bleeds you for the rest of your life or is stitched together with the aforementioned qualities could be the difference between living in the now, or being forever stuck in a battle that has long since stopped being fought. "The Railway Man" transmits these themes with ease, but in doing so, forgets that coming to that kind of maturity sometimes requires laboring long and hard through tracks of relationships, memories and self-doubt that some people who don't have the convenience of a meet-cute on a train to solve.

This article is related to: News, Reviews, Toronto, Colin Firth, Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Nicole Kidman, Weinstein Co., The Weinstein Co.


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.