Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Movie Rant -- The Railway Man

I've never been a fan of making a movie out of a book or play. Is there an insufficient number of original scripts out there so that we cannot avoid that? Who would sculpt a version of the Mona Lisa? And part of my problem is that 99 times out of a hundred, the book or play is better. Hollywood usually finds a way to, if not ruin the book, at least sap a good book's power and beauty. Which brings me to The Railway Man.

First of all, this is a pretty good movie. It certainly made me cry at the end, not in sadness but in a subset of joy, agape would be the mot juste. But there were a few things that struck me as off and I bought and read the book of the same name, a war memoir by Eric Lomax who was abused by the Japanese as a prisoner of war after the appallingly bad defense of Singapore ended in a mass surrender of Commonwealth troops, the worst defeat ever suffered by the English, and, man, have they suffered some defeats in the past millennium or so. The two things that bothered be were: The faux importance of water boarding (as the Japanese deployed it) to Lt. Lomax's deserved PTSD; and, The first meeting of Lomax and the Japanese translator he hated years after the war ended.

As I suspected, the beating Lomax took (fatal to two of the other officers beaten in the same barbaric episode, as described in the book) was far, far worse than the water "cure" which Lomax barely remembered. And far, far worse than either of these was his time in enforced isolation and near starvation in a prison for war criminals in Singapore. But of course the waterboarding in the movie was the worst that Lomax faced and the editing made it the absolute nadir of his lengthy torture by the Japanese. Gee, no political bias there.

Also, in the movie, Lomax "ambushes" the translator he wants revenge on and subjects him to some fear and few seconds of taking Lomax's place in the tiny cages. But in the book, the meeting is anything but menacing.

I know that the book version, the things that really happened, are not easily made into the stuff of tense, interesting drama. You have to punch up the reality a little for the moviegoers, as the movie makers would probably say. But I couldn't disagree more. Showing me what really took place, particularly if you could do it with montage, with clever editing (and not with helpful but unrealistic expositive dialogue), would be the height of movie making. And having to lie about the extent of  the actual suffering, either by punching it up or leaving it out, defeats the power the torture scenes have and skews the whole point of retelling the Lomax war history. That power comes from the reality, because it is shocking and brutal and debilitating to watch. And the power of the torture makes the ending so much more powerful because it is literally unforgivable but forgiveness wins out nonetheless. Why throw in a false, cheap shot against the CIA?

I blame the writers. In fact, one of them, the one who merely punched up the original version, is a producer who has done or helped in several pretty good films. And the real writer has done some interesting things, if not wholly successful, usually staring Steve Coogan. I believe they decided to bend the facts to fit their modern liberal world view and took the movie down a few pegs from greatness with their propagandist mucking about with the truth.

I have watched actress Nicole Kidman and actor Colin Firth "grow up" in the movies from their first roles as high school students (where they were both great); Flirting for Kidman and Another Country for Firth. Firth has done slightly better (and unfortunately has aged better as well). I really like Dead Calm, The Others, Cold Mountain and To Die For for Kidman. But I like more with Firth: Love Actually, A Single Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Valmont, Conspiracy and Circle of Friends. Neither is at the tip top of their acting prowess here but both are first rate so it's difficult to fault them for the movie's dullness. Besides, Directors (and to a lesser degree Producers) make films. Actors are sheep.

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