Some American critics are ambivalent about The Railway Man, full of admiration for the performances but less than whole-hearted about the film’s overall impact.

Perhaps US moviegoers share those mixed feelings, judging by the initial box-office results. Jonathan Teplitzy’s drama rolled out on 22 screens around the US last Friday after platforming at four theatres in Los Angeles and New York the previous weekend.

The 3-day take was $US164,252 for a per-screen average of $6,317, which brings the total to $252,402. That’s a fair number but it suggests the film may not have break-out out potential, despite getting far more positive than negative reviews and the backing of the canny US distributor, the Weinstein Co.

Out of 80 reviews counted by Rotten Tomatoes, 52 are positive, meaning a “fresh” rating of 65%.

The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan seems to typify the ambivalent tone of many critics, observing, “It’s easier to like The Railway Man than it is to love it. Despite solid performances by Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgård, and a handsome cinematic sheen burnishing the shocking, true-life tale of wartime torture and reconciliation, the film is less deeply affecting than merely admirable. It’s a good, slick and well-intentioned film that wants so hard to be an important one that the slight feeling of letdown it leaves is magnified.”

The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr praised Firth's portrayal of WW2 veteran Eric Lomax as “a man struggling to make sense of the ordeal that his life has become.” But he added a caveat: “Too often, though, you can feel the movie struggling right along with him.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub was more effusive, stating, “For such a torment-filled story, the ending is surprisingly satisfying, with an important message that a lesser filmmaker might have telegraphed too much. The Railway Man is a thoughtful reprieve from the louder and less subtle cinema that starts coming out this time of year.”

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  1. A film can succeed in spite of its title, but this one has not yet aligned with me. To me, the title suggests the conventional railroad drama. It is would-be-punny — a common too-smart aspect of Australian films. Do Americans know the word ‘railway’?

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