Tom Leins reviews The Railway Man and Hustlers.
Based on Eric Lomax’s bestselling autobiography of the same name, The Railway Man (Lionsgate) chronicles the author’s experiences as a captured British Army Officer in a Japanese labour camp during World War II.
Lomax (Jeremy Irvine, War Horse) is captured when the Japanese conquer Singapore and forced, along with his fellow captives, to build the Thai-Burma Railway. As a result of the torture he endured, Eric is left traumatised and uncommunicative for years to come, despite the best efforts of his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy) and old friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard, Good Will Hunting). Many years later, an older Lomax (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) resolves to track down one of his torturers, Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada, The Wolverine, Lost), in a bid to come to terms with his horrific ordeal.
Well-acted and evocatively rendered, The Railway Man sees Colin Firth deliver a pitch-perfect blend of grief and fury as the tormented Lomax. The resemblance between Irvine and Firth gives the dual narrative extra impetus, even if Firth doesn’t quite seem old enough for the role. It may be a curiously old-fashioned movie in many ways, but The Railway Man refuses to pull its punches in its depiction of torture, adding a queasy realism to proceedings. Admittedly, the use of two timelines is occasionally too neat for its own good, and ultimately undermines the film’s emotional charge. All in all: a handsomely made film about a dark episode in history.
Written by jobbing actor Adam Minarovich and directed by Wayne Kramer (Crossing Over), Hustlers (Lionsgate) focuses on a day’s trading at a small-town Pawn Shop in the American Deep South. In the first storyline ‘The Shotgun’, Raw Dog (Paul Walker, The Fast & The Furious) and his equally strung-out accomplice Randy go in search of a suitable weapon so they can rob their Crystal Meth dealer, while the second segment ‘The Ring’ sees Richard (Matt Dillon, Factotum) embark on a violent quest to find his estranged wife after discovering her ring in the Pawn Shop. The final instalment ‘The Medallion’, meanwhile, is a laboured, unfunny extended skit involving an Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy) on his way to a gig at the county fair
Originally known as Pawn Shop Chronicles -a far better title if truth be told -Hustlers is a real mess. Writer Minarovich and director Kramer are allowed to indulge their Pulp Fiction fantasies to the hilt, and the overlapping storylines are a clumsy reminder of an era when ill-conceived Tarantino knock-offs were firmly in vogue. Kramer -not to be confused with the MC5 guitarist of the same name -has a seriously uneven track record, and his previous features have veered from the sublime (The Cooler) and the ridiculous (Running Scared). Hustlers is far closer in tone to Running Scared, but manages to fall well short of that admittedly low benchmark.
In light of his untimely death, Hustlers seems likely to attract the attention of Paul Walker fans, although his role is fairly modest in the grand scheme of things. The ensemble cast -also including Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane and Elijah Wood -is one of the few plus-points, but they are given little of substance to work with, and the film feels like a waste of everybody’s time.