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Hammerle On … 'The Railway Man,' 'Under the Skin'

May 7, 2014

hammerle_railway2.jpgThe Railway Man”

One of the great movies in cinema history was David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957). Dealing with the horrid mistreatment of British prisoners of war by the Japanese in World War II as they were forced to build a railroad in the jungles of Burma, it left one unanswered question. How did the survivors on both sides adapt to life at home after the war ended?

“The Railway Man” provides an answer in chilling fashion. The extraordinary Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax, a former British soldier haunted by his time in captivity. Appearing normal, he rides trains in England as both a hobby and to escape his past.

In the process, he meets regularly with old military comrades, guys who provide collective support without saying one word about their ordeal. Stellan Skarsgard gives another accomplished performance as a close friend who helps Lomax protect their dark secrets.

Lomax meets a divorced woman on one of his train rides, and he falls in love and marries her. Played warmly by Nicole Kidman, she seeks to help her husband confront his reoccurring nightmares.

A critical moment in this film occurs when Kidman’s Patti beseeches Skarsgard’s Finlay to reveal what really happened after they surrendered to the Japanese. Patti learns of her husband’s lengthy torture that resulted from his creation of an old radio designed solely to allow his battered friends to listen to news and music from England.

The film reaches its denouement with the discovery that one of Lomax’s Japanese tormenters is not only alive, but conducting a tour of the original prison camp and surrounding work area in Malaysia. Lomax must decide if he is to confront his adversary, and the movie defines the character of both men.

While Firth is wonderful at every turn, he is matched by the performance of Hiroyuki Sanada, playing a man equally haunted by his past war experience.

“The Railway Man” is based on a true story, and I couldn’t help but feel its relationship to the unforgivable torture that our country inflicted on captives under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. As we watch Lomax being hideously waterboarded in “The Railway Man,” wasn’t that the same reaction of many Islamic captives under our control?

If we are to condemn Japanese military superiors for their cruel treatment of Allied soldiers in World War II, don’t we also need to condemn our own country for engaging in the same activities in the 21st century? How can we excuse that which we consider forbidden?

Under the Skin”

Tantalized by some intriguing reviews, I was lured to see Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin.” One critic called it “dazzling,” while another labeled it “the best science fiction film in 10 years.” Let me simply say that I was misled.

Sure, it stars Scarlett Johansson, but there is nothing remotely memorable about her performance. The film is hard to understand from its delusional opening credits, and the few moments that are intelligible are appallingly offensive.hammerle_skin.jpg

Without giving anything away, Johansson is an alien who spends the entire film roaming in a van in Scotland to entice decent men to their demise. It seems that she and other extraterrestrials are in need of skin to make them appear members of the human race, and victims die peacefully as they follow a gradually disrobing Johansson into dark buildings.

In effect, Johansson plays the role of an exotic fishing lure designed to hook human trout. It was interesting the first time it happened, and it left you thinking, “What’s next?” The problem is that nothing was next, only a repeat of the same thing over and over again.

The film is nearly devoid of dialogue, which only added to its incredible boredom. However, there were several scenes between Johansson and her male victims that were so off-putting they leave you to regret entering the theater.

The first concerned a father on a Scottish beach with his two young children and their dog. When the dog swims out into the waves, a 10-year-old boy swims after him, leaving both drowning. The father desperately swims after them, leaving a 2-year-old child on the beach. When the father starts to flounder, a caring bystander swims out to grab him and bring him back to the shore.

As the bystander lies gasping for air, the father bolts back into the water where you can guess the results. Seeing all this, Johansson walks up to the gasping stranger, hits him over the head with a rock, killing him. As the 2-year-old child cries, she ignores him while dragging off the dead body. You can almost hear her mumbling, “Shut up, kid, I need a little skin.”

The second unconscionable episode concerns the seduction of a poor, facially deformed man who resembled the central character played by Eric Stoltz in the movie “Mask” (1985).

Upon some reflection, I know that the purpose of the film was for Johansson to display an alien who simply didn’t understand acceptable norms of human conduct. On the other hand, she did learn how to drive, not to mention using her sexuality, and her inability to remotely care about the most vulnerable people in our society was inexcusable.

Regardless, I’ve warned you. See it at your own risk.•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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