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

Robert Hammerle
May 7, 2014
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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.•

__________

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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  • Obsession
    Obsessing on Stellan Skarsgård ? Last week's porn review was a movie with this same leading man. Can this paper post reviews on movies that are more uplifting and inspiring? Many God-honoring movies out right now, why not one of them? Because Stellan Skarsgård does not star?
  • NOTHING NEW-SEE 'Terror from the Year 5000' for a good(bad?) alien scare!
    Have not seen this one, but it may have been influenced by 'Terror from the Year 5000' (1958-US). 'Terror' involves a superficially attractive radioactive mutant woman from the future brought back to the present via a time machine, invented by the Professor. She seeks to bring a human to the future to add genetic material to the gene pool which has been decimated by nuclear war. (SPOILER WARNING!) The visitor steals a human's face,, is now beautiful, and has almost talked a human male into going to the future with her when at the last moment the professor's daughter pulls off the visitor's mask revealing her grotesque radiation mutated face. One of the earliest and best uses of a horrific 'she-monster' to terrify the audience, which is what it sounds like is going on in 'Under the Skin', tho apparently Johansson's character is not disfigured but merely psychologically grotesque. Might have been a nice touch if she were both, tho doubt that Johansson would have taken such a role.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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