This is based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a Scottish soldier who, after his unit were captured by the Japanese when they took Singapore (one of the biggest military defeats the British ever suffered, who were in charge of the eighty thousand or so allied troops seized that day – many of whom would perish at the hands of their captors), was forced to work on the Burma railway by the Japanese, wherein he experienced severe torture to the point that it all but ruined the rest of his life, one day compelling him to return to Japan with the aim of murdering one of his still living tormentors (this is a major departure from Lomax’s book, where he returned to Japan in order to face his demons and try and find peace, rather than setting out for cold blooded vengeance). Colin Firth plays Eric in his middle age, with Jeremy Irvine doing a good job of portraying him in the flashbacks of his youth (the picture above features Irvine on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, truly one of the few cities on the world where you can get a picture like that without the need for any digital alteration, as it looks just as historic, and just as beautiful, today).
The catalyst for this need for confrontation comes in the form of his marriage to Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman), as well as the intervention of his friend Finlay (Stellan Skaarsgard), when she comes to realise with some shock the mental scars that the various assaults have left him with. In terms of the film’s treatment of the war and the attempts by the Japanese to link Bangkok to Rangoon via the railway, there are much better versions out there – most notably David Lean’s ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ which won several Oscars for 1957. The historical context is only part of the story though, with the focus on Eric’s mental torment and his final one on one dance with the devil, as he returns to the scene of the crimes to find one of his captors, played by Hiroyuki Sanada (who also appeared in ‘The Wolverine‘ and ‘47 Ronin‘), now running guided tours of the facilities for profit.
The acting from all the leads is good throughout, though the film was deliberately taken out of the awards race for 2013 due to the heavy saturation of key categories. It’s good to see a treatment of the long term effects of abuse but the dramatic changes they’ve made to the original true story just feel very lazy, and somewhat misguided.