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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Looking at this movie as a whole, it works brilliantly in conveying its
theme of the madness of war, and how it drives good men to do bad
things. Great direction, acting across the board, and cinematography
all add a lot to the movie.
**** SPOILERS *****
As I was watching the movie, for the first hour I felt increasingly annoyed by Col. Nicholson's "play by the rules and do what you're told" philosophy. Then as the movie went on, and we follow the British plan to blow up the bridge, I realised that this was how the movie wanted me to feel, and then the finale pulled off a brilliant reversal, and a sort of redemption for Nicholson. Standout scenes are the killing of the Japanese soldiers while clouds of bats whirl over the jungle, and, of course, the incredibly tense and powerful finale.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a British World War II film by David
Lean based on The Bridge over the River Kwai by French writer Pierre
Boulle. The film is a work of fiction but borrows the construction of
the Burma Railway in 194243 for its historical setting. It stars
William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. The
film was shot in Sri Lanka (credited as Ceylon, as it was known at the
time). The bridge in the movie was located near Kitulgala.
The Bridge on the River Kwai opens in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Burma in 1943, where a battle of wills rages between camp commander Colonel Saito and newly arrived British colonel Nicholson. Saito insists that Nicholson order his men to build a bridge over the river Kwai, which will be used to transport Japanese munitions. Nicholson refuses, despite all the various "persuasive" devices at Saito's disposal. Finally, Nicholson agrees, not so much to cooperate with his captor as to provide a morale-boosting project for the military engineers under his command. The colonel will prove that, by building a better bridge than Saito's men could build, the British soldier is a superior being even when under the thumb of the enemy. As the bridge goes up, Nicholson becomes obsessed with completing it to perfection, eventually losing sight of the fact that it will benefit the Japanese. Meanwhile, American POW Shears, having escaped from the camp, agrees to save himself from a court martial by leading a group of British soldiers back to the camp to destroy Nicholson's bridge. Upon his return, Shears realizes that Nicholson's mania to complete his project has driven him mad.
Brilliant is the word, and no other, to describe the quality of skills that have gone into the making of this picture.Most war movies are either for or against their wars. The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the few that focuses not on larger rights and wrongs but on individuals for it speaks of the code of honor amongst men during war, the respect shared by enemies of war, and the madness which war evokes.In short,this complex war epic asks hard questions, resists easy answers, and boasts career-defining work from star Alec Guinness and director David Lean.
I heard a film critic once say that there really aren't "war movies";
there are only "anti-war" movies. I'm still not sure what I think of
that claim, but having seen - The Bridge on the River Kwai- enough
times in the past several years, I think I'm persuaded that it's at
least half right. -Kwai-, I believe, is both a "war" and "anti-war"
movie, and, in my view, it succeeds admirably at both.
There is almost no element of -Kwai- that is not praise-worthy. David Lean's direction is tight and evocative. The cinematography is great (even though the color seems increasingly drained in film versions that I have seen). The acting is top-notch. I honestly believe that this is Alec Guiness's best performance, and Sessue Hayakawa is also highly sympathetic and believable. William Holden and Jack Hawkins round out the cast nicely.
The musical score is also right on. Simply put, -Kwai- is an excellently constructed film made by people who obviously cared a great deal about it. As a result, the viewer comes to care a great deal about it as well.
Clearly -Kwai- is an anti-war film. There is no glorification here. War is brutal, period. It's brutality is not captured here in terms of gory carnage or senseless battles. Instead, the psychological dimension of brutality comes across clearly. Yet, -Kwai- also shows the resilience of the human spirit as well as its complexity. One is left wondering if participation in World War II not only psychologically brutalized the characters played by Guiness, Hayakawa, and Holden but also if it simultaneously uplifted them. The paradox is striking to me each time I view this film. War can act both as a positive and negative catalyst, and it can do both of these things at the same instant.
So, is -The Bridge on the River Kwai- a war movie or an anti-war movie? I think Lean clearly preferred the latter, but the subject matter and his approach to it may have landed somewhere in between.
Regardless, -Kwai- is a fantastic film experience and is not to be missed. It is, simply put, my very favorite film--bar none.
I have seen this movie in 1958, and now I have seen it again after 53 years, and I have liked it the same as before. the only thing I was disgusted was the party they made after the bridge is finished, I found this ridiculous for soldiers, I say this because I serve for 7 years in the Legion, and we never will do this sort of ridiculous fiesta. the real history is nothing to do with the movie. of course I understand the producers that looks very much for the money, instead of the reallity, and I disagree totally with this matter, I prefer movies made accordingly with the true history, and the Hollywood movies they are plenty of this fiction movies, but not reality and you become very disappointed when you take acquaintance of the real history.
This film represents all that is wrong with Hollywood productions. I
have seen this film on several occasions and found it to make good
viewing. That was until I learned the true story that is so cleverly
concealed behind Hollywood's plastic exterior.
Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Toosey (renamed Colonel Nickleson in the film) was a magnificent man, one of the best to serve under the British army. Nickleson, in the film, is portrayed as a mad man, obsessed with his mens mighty accomplishment. How anyone can 'bag' a man of such valor is beside me...
To Hollywood: If you want this film done right, hard and direct to the truth, let the English make it, after all, it was their war, not yours.
Unrelated facts: WWII is not America's war, mainly because they weren't there for the majority of it. Only when they were attacked did they provide assistance. Where were they in Africa, Eastern Europe or England itself when is was being torn down?
August 7, 2000: I just want to say how sorry I am to hear of
the passing of Sir Alec Guinness. He was always one of
my very favorite actors, and he always astounded me with
his quiet, understated brilliance. From the Ealing comedies to "Star Wars" to his late work for British television, Sir Alec never ceased to endow his characters
with charm and muted nuance. But of all his performances, his Colonel Nicholson in "Bridge on the River Kwai" remains perhaps his most remarkable achievement. So, it's fitting that this is the film for which he
received his Academy Award. Film-goers around the world
are very fortunate that Alec Guinness left behind such a
large and impressive body of work.
Good night, sweet prince, and flocks of angels sing thee to
In the luxurious jungle of Thailand , British prisoners (Alec Guinnes,
James Donald , Percy Herbert , among others) of WWII captured in the
fall of Singapur are taken by Japanese wards for building a railway
bridge on the trail since Bangcock until Rangún . With extraordinary
appearance when the prisoners arrive in the POW war camp whistle the
title song,the Colonel Bogey March . Central plot is the troublesome
relationship between the obstinate Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinnes) and
a cruel ruler , Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) and parallel efforts by
escaped convict (William Holden) , officer (Jack Hawkins) and soldier
(Geoffrey Horne) to destroy it.
This excellent film , winner of numerous Oscars was magnificently directed by David Lean . However , first was slated Alexander Korda , but he withdrew due he deemed wrong the main roles . Also was originally considered Howard Hawks , but he abandoned , especially concern was the all male lead characters and because his previous film, Land of the pharaohs, failed at the Box office . Gary Grant was firstly hired , but declined due to other offers and was substituted by William Holden . Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson were uncredited , but were blacklisted as suspect communists and only appears credited Pierre Boulle who won Academy Award for best adapted script , though he didn't know English language . In 1984 when the movie was restored , they retrospectively won the prize , but sadly they had dead, however their names were justly added to writing credits . The famous march whistle by prisoners , is original from 1916 titled ¨Bollocks and the same for you¨ by Mayor Ricketts , a chief of musical band and the actual words were obscene , later being re-titled Colonel Bogey March . Deservedly won the Oscar for best musical score by Malcolm Arnold . The authentic bridge was built by prisoners in two months and constructed for film was four months with help elephants and by hundred workers and length 425 feet long and 50 foot above the water , in Ceylon location . But was demolished in a matter of seconds , as it is splendidly reflected in the movie.
What does it mean to be a solider versus a prisoner? How about the
meaning of a Colonel's duty, pride, and everything in a male-centric
view in times of war? And really, what everything seems to come down
to- in the case of The Bridge on the River Kwai- is that priorities end
up being eschewed with moral ambiguity and heroism in the oddest
circumstances. David's Lean's masterpiece takes a compelling look at
men who wont give in, and when they do they somehow lose a piece of
themselves in the process- a big part really depending on point of view
&/or country- and how being ultra-tough and stubborn and headstrong may
get you killed for the wrong reasons. Colonel Nicholson (Sir Alec
Guiness in a very well deserved Oscar winning turn) and Colonel Saito
(Sessue Hayakawa, who is actually a really great actor as well) both
don't want to give in when Nicholson arrives at Saito's camp, and
refuses adamantly to work alongside the fellow soldiers on the bridge-
he sees it's against the Geneva conventions, and makes it a point of
principle not to do it. He's put away for a while, but then finally
Saito can't take the stubbornness any more- as he knows he's been
evenly matched perhaps- and has no choice (ala seppuku if not achieved)
but to let him direct the building of the bridge. But what this turns
into for Nicholson, as a further elongation of the principle of the
matter for his men and the situation, into a really mad situation.
So in this there is also the other main section of the story, where the idea of what it is to have principles starts to pick up via 'Major' Shears (William Holden, the conventional 'star' who grows more interesting in the second half). He's not really a major, but he's done in a quasi-cowardly quasi-pragmatic move to take a major's place when taken prisoner in the camp. When he achieves escape, however, he's caught between a rock and a hard place when he has to go with Major Warden (also a headstrong, 'war is a game' character played by Jack Hawkins), otherwise he'll be dishonorably discharged as an impersonator, already with a criminal record. There's a pivotal scene when he and Warden are on their way to the bridge, which undercuts the whole bond between Nicholson and Saito, when Warden wants to be left for dead after injuring his foot. Does it make more sense to hold one's own sense of duty to a mission, or to one's self, or not? What becomes Shears's gain- a sense of obligation as opposed to being a 'have no choice' scenario- becomes Nicholson's loss. The bridge to Nicholson becomes something abstracted from what is really going on, and his original ideal of not giving in to being a prisoner becomes muddled, leading up to that incredibly tense, maddening climax where his final words punctuate it all: "what have I done?"
But it's not all completely a serious endeavor, and what's so brilliant about Lean's approach to Boulle's material is that it's also a grand old entertainment, where the characters are rich and fully engrossing (albeit with Shears's/Holden given an obligatory "I'm the star" scene with a blond on a beach that seems from a different movie), and with a scope and direction that is just as ambitious in its own right as Lawrence of Arabia. Lean occasionally lets some visual metaphors in that do work very well (the huge flock of birds flying around, and the bridge itself being a metaphor in itself of colonial interests). But for the most part he lets the atmosphere of a war-time adventure work by itself, with the cinematography and editing sometimes working in ultra-suspenseful ways (particularly with the setting up of the wires around the bridge, and 'go time'), and in a traditional way of solid storytelling. He lets the themes work through the characters, which gives the actors a lot more to work with than with pushing it down the viewer's throat. There's a sense that the boundaries of the typical POW/war movie, particularly from a British viewpoint, are stretched and expanded, questioning the means of the main characters while still showing them, in spurts, to have great merit.
And if for nothing else, the acting's really what stands out, especially in the subtle notes and turns that seem over-the-top like with Hayakawa but are really nuanced too (he, especially, has a crux to deal with in suddenly losing his own sense of duty to country as a Brit takes over his job essentially). Guiness, meanwhile, gives something extraordinary in practically every scene, when he's either reserved or having to finally break down and show emotion (it's not the first bridge he's over-seen, hence the extra amount of pride that it'll be a "British-built" bridge). As Shears notes, there's something dangerous to a man like Nicholson who wont give in, and Guiness undercuts this dangerous quality with the elegance that he's perfect at, and then lets it become full-circle when he meets his all-too-ironic end. Holden, by the way, is also quite good here, if sort of given the almost thankless role of the star who's typically cocky, and only when finally on the mission is there some opening up in relation to Hawkins's Warden; his speech to Warden is especially engrossing.
Featuring the catchiest of all whistling in the movies, and a dynamite cast and graceful and distinctively superlative directorial vision, this is one of those rare films about war where character takes precedence over action (compared to the common war movies of the period, it's only sporadic and more suggestive in the violence), not to mention in big-budget splendor, and ends up truly memorable.
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is much more than just a movie that gave the
world the most famous whistle ever. The story in all of its simplicity is
incredibly ingenious. The audience has never felt so much sympathy
for...well, a bridge. Since there's a picture of an exploding or a burning
bridge in almost every cover and a movie poster of this film I guess it's
really not a big secret that in the end the British soldiers blow up the
bridge on the River Kwai that took their own allies handfuls of time,
effort, talent, blood, tears and sweat to build.
As far as I understand the big lesson of the film turns out to be: man is an insane creature. The last words of this movie pretty much says it all. Anyway, the film is utterly fantastic and best of all, filled with wonderful acting. Especially the late Alec Guinness has a performance of his life. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is a movie that deserves every single one of the Academy awards it won. It's certainly one of the most entertaining, exciting and stylish movies of the 1950's and a class example of a motion picture experience that's "larger than life". 10/10
This film is a great piece of fiction, and it will no doubt entertain most
people who see it. However, it could not be more historically incorrect
considering what these prisoners actually lived through, it is nothing
of a crime that their story has not been told to a general audience and
are left with this sad piece of fiction. If you can, find a few of the
Australian, British, American soldiers that lived through this horrible,
horrible experience and ask them what they thought of the film. Most will
tell you that it spits on the memory of the soldiers that did not return.
If you are really interested in this story, pick up a history book and
this film alone. If you watch it, don't take it seriously and ignore
everything it tries to tell you.
As a piece of entertainment: 8.5 / 10 As a piece of history: 2.0 / 10
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