I really wanted to like this movie. While there are numerous films on the Holocaust (as there should be as it appears there is still a disturbing amount of anti-Semites out there) the atrocities of the fascists in Japan during WWII often get ignored because of the ease with which we can cast Nazis as the villains (it saves so much time in writing when you don’t have to include any back story, everyone just knows who the Nazis are and why they’re the bad guys). So the tale of veterans dealing with the aftermath of having been tortured by the Japanese army held so much potential in my mind. That was actually based on a true story and seemed an even better bonus. However the immensity of the tale seems to have just been beyond the skill of director Jonathan Teplitzky.
The story can be broken into three parts. The story of young Eric Lomax, a Lieutenant in the British army at the time of the British surrender in Singapore. Eric is taken to the forced labor camps building the railway in Burma where upon being caught with a radio he is tortured by his Japanese captors. The second story is of a much older Eric (Colin Firth) who in the early 1980’s falls in love and marries a woman, Patti (Nicole Kidman), who soon discovers that he still bears deep mental scars from his torture and even after decades is still not coping with the pain. The final part is that Eric discovers that the man he most remembers being a part of his torture (Hiroyuki Sanada) is not only still alive but making money showing off the labor camp to tourists. Eric sets out to find vengeance and perhaps the peace that has eluded him since the war.
To a great degree the problems with this movie derive from the fact that you have these three plot lines (each one which could probably fill a movie on its own) they may all be intricately tied together, but director Tepilitzky never seems to make them fit together in any meaningful way. The story moves back and forth in a not so linear manner between these points, never letting us fully digest anyone one part. The relationship between Eric and Patti never seems to be fully believable (as it just doesn’t make sense that Eric could be damaged as he is but never show that side to Patti until they were married). Nor, for being based on a true story, were Eric’s post tramatic symptoms consistent or really fully explained—the writers just seemed to use a grab bag of mental issues, I’m sure people with real PTSD can have all these symptoms, but art isn’t reality, and his just random phases of catatonia, hallucinations, panic attacks and violent outburts sometimes without rhyme or reason just seems forced. Again this may be the nature of the disease, but the randomness on film just felt forced as if to say, we’re going to show how broken this man is by showing you he has every issue in the book once, and only once, because to hell with the consistency of good story telling.
(This trailer is actually a better story than the movie)
And while the movie did a respectable job of showing some of the tortures Lomax went through (although in some ways what showed was tame compared to what the Japanese did during the course of their butchery in WWII) the writers and director blew all of this story line by trying to make a political statement rather than a telling a moving story. Why do I say this, because when Eric reaches the point that he is ready to kill his tormentor he finally has a flashback to what has been hinted at through out the entire movie as the worst part of his torture: as it turns out waterboarding. Yes it’s so nice when you get a ham-fisted political statement in a movie where it had no place to be—of course that’s not all because while everything has been building up to the waterboarding scenes, the bad directing undercuts the very argument of how bad waterboarding is by the fact that it was his previous beatings that caused Eric to go catatonic but the waterboarding brought out the drive to insult and mock his captors with their inevitable defeat (if you’re trying to make waterboarding look like the work of only evil men, which the movie so clumsily tries to do, maybe showing it as bringing out strength of character might not be the best call). Also it’s pretty tame compared to what the Japanese were known for doing. If we’re going to be technical, it’s also relevant that the waterboarding is done without asking him any questions whatsoever, just waterboarding him over and over and over again in a clear desire not to get answers from an interrogation but just to mentally break him—to whiny liberals this is probably an irrelevant distinction, but to people dealing in the real world it’s what separates torture (what the Japanese did) from interrogation (what the US does).
There are also some glaring historical inaccuracies but I’ll forgive those because they were done for the sake of plot and drama, and might have worked with a director who wanted to make a movie rather than a political statement…regrettably this was not the case for this film.
Like I said, I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but, alas, I give it a 1 out of 5. Don’t waste your time.