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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So many great things about this movie that I've watched many times, so
I will just limit my thoughts to the brilliant and thrilling climax,
IMO the greatest ever in an action movie. So many things going on as
Colonel Nicholson and Saito contemplate the completion of the bridge
and what may lie ahead for both of them, while the commando group of
Warden, Shears and Joyce have realized that the explosives they have
set to blow up the bridge are likely to be discovered as the river
depth has receded. Which will require them to set off the charges by
hand, hopefully to as blow up as Japenese troop train as it crosses the
bridge. It's a scene that lasts for about .15 suspenseful minutes Bill
Holden becomes a reluctant hero and Alec Guinness realizes his
obsession with building the bridge for the Japanese army is indeed
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a war movie that is often very
entertaining, but it sets itself apart from other war movies. Unlike
those other movies, this particular film is a provocative film that
asks complex questions, but doesn't answer them easily. It is all up to
the audience to believe what happened and why it happened. Of course,
everyone may have different opinions and the movie seems to ask for
that. Usually in war movies, they are concerned about the bigger
picture such as who wins or who loses, which is all very fair
questions. But the reason this film works more than most war films is
because it poses questions that are deeper than the winner or loser.
The movie talks about individualism. It's not all about who wins or
loses the war, but who is in that war and how does war affect the
This film takes place in 1943, at a Japanese POW camp during the middle of World War Two. The Japanese have captured British soldiers, led by Colonel Nicholson. Nicholson and his soldiers are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate a railway. Nicholson convinces his soldiers to build the bridge for British morality and to show the Japanese what they stand for. But over time, Nicholson develops an obsessive disorder with completing the bridge, which is being seen as collaborating with the enemy. Unknowingly to Nicholson or Saito, there is a plot to destroy the bridge. An American named Shears, a former POW who escaped the camp, is part of the team that is tasked with blowing up the bridge.
If you put the movie on about three-quarters into it, you would be forgiven if you thought Saito and Nicholson were allies. But the a good portion of the beginning of the film, it was quite the opposite. The film opens with Nicholson and his troops being led into the camp and being introduced to Saito. It became clear right away that each man's morale opposed each other. It also became clear that Nicholson possessed a brave spirit. He endured torture for the sake of his beliefs, and he risked the chance of being killed. One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Nicholson took out a copy of the Geneva Convention out of his pocket (to prove to Saito that officers don't have to work on the bridge) and gave it to Saito, in which Saito used it to slap Nicholson across the face drawing blood. Then, he was dragged to "The Oven," a hut that stands in the fierce sun. But once Nicholson was released, that is when the two men began to work together, drawing up some interesting questions.
My favorite sections of the movie was when Nicholson, played wonderfully by Alec Guinness was on screen. However, the other half of the film is based on the plot trying to destroy the bridge. Shears was a former POW, but as an escapee and at a local hospital imitating an officer, he is coerced into the plot so his imitation as an officer wont become public. I liked the slow, grueling pace of these scenes, attempting to reach the bridge because it shows what it would be like in reality. It certainly was no picnic. It's not nearly as convincing as the scenes in the jungle, but it's good enough.
This film was the film that gave Alec Guinness his Oscar. He gave such an intense performance as the colonel who slowly begins a moral descent, perhaps the only thing that kept him alive. Guinness deserved his Oscar for his powerful performance. William Holden does an expert job in playing a typical American, Shears. He likes the booze and the women, but also is compelled by adventure even if the outcome seems a little murky. I also liked the performance of Sessue Hayakawa, as the strict Japanese commandant. He was actually one of the first Asian stars in Hollywood, from the era of silent film. So it was nice for the film to harken back to its beginning. Finally, the movie boasts excellent supporting turns by Jack Hawkins, as the leader of the crew headed to destroy the bridge and James Donald, the doctor of the camp and the man who questions the sanity of Colonel Nicholson. His expression on his face in the scene where Nicholson recruits sick and injured soldiers to help with the bridge was yet another powerful moment in the film.
The film is directed by David Lean, who excels at directing these kind of big, explosive films. Lean is famously hard to work with. It is on record that Guinness and Lean did not like each other during filming, but somehow Guinness was still able to deliver a powerhouse performance. Despite his personality, Lean is experienced in such films. He delivered a film that is entertaining, but still was able to put important themes and messages in the movie such as what it takes to stay alive under times of duress (such as this war).
Overall, The Bridge on the River Kwai is an incredibly powerful, expertly-made war film that shows how war can make people mad. From start to finish, I was glued to the movie taking in all the excellent performances and a excellent story thanks to the Oscar-winning screenplay by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson. One note to mention is this film is not based on historical truth. It's a fictional story, despite a similar event that actually happened. The only thing that is real is the harsh treatment of the soldiers in the POW camp. Everything about the film: the acting, directing, cinematography, score, and story just screams perfection. This is one of my all-time favorite war movies.
My Grade: A+
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is well over half a century old. Both
visuals and sound have been thoroughly restored, so that current
electronic prints are quite nice.
It's a "war film" ...and it's also an "anti-war film" It's about individual characters more than the larger conflict. In both these regards it seems to me most similar to "Apocalypse Now" ...except ending with "Madness, Madness" rather than "The Horror, The Horror".
It's a ripping good yarn. Even though many individual moments and scenes seem "hokey" these days, somehow they all add up to something that will hold your attention for hours.
Although it's not an "epic", and although it's shot on standard 35mm film, there are already suggestions here of what we'd see in "Lawrence of Arabia". Even half a decade earlier, here David Lean showed that he was enamored of shooting on location, shooting huge vistas, and shooting in a very wide format.
I think one of the reasons the film still speaks to us is its considerable ambiguity. Did Nicholson fall accidentally on the plunger, or did he do it intentionally in a last cry of remorse? Did Saito intend the knife for a possible but unlikely ritual suicide, a certain ritual suicide, or to kill Nicholson once he'd fully served his purpose? Did Warden throw his weapon in a temporary fit of frustration, or as the first sign of a permanent decision to have nothing more to do with war? Did the women express revulsion at the deaths of men they were fond of, or at the realization of just how violent war was? ...and many more.
The film was adapted from a book, except with the ambiguity ramped up, a character added, and different subplots emphasized. The book in turn was _loosely_ based on some real events the French author had no first hand involvement in (and may have even wanted to portray the British in a poor light).
There are many things that one may accept in the moment, but that after a bit of reflection can't possibly be real: Temporary reassignment of a soldier to the army of a different country - A British medic running his own hospital with no supervision, having his own building, and making his own independent decisions about who could work and who could not - The Japanese not having sufficient engineering talent to design and build a permanent bridge - Prisoners often allowed to whistle a tune that was very derogatory to the Axis - Inmates in a Japanese prison camp appearing in good health, with good uniforms, and at normal weight - Inmates in a Japanese prison camp arranging their own entertainment ceremonies - Nicholson staying alive in an unventilated corrugated steel box in full sun in that torrid climate for many days - The Japanese commandant giving in to the British prisoner officer without any advance agreement on getting something in return - The very first detent between jailers and prisoners being in a lengthy joint meeting around a conference table, and with the prisoners controlling the agenda - A soldier with serious doubts about killing being selected as part of an elite commando unit - A sailor suddenly knowing how to handle a gun and how to be a commando - and more.
In fact there are so many such departures from reality I can't imagine how anyone could possibly think this film is in any way trying to pass itself off as portraying historical events. To me, it's very obviously more of an imagined morality play than a portrayal of actual events. Nevertheless there have been public questions about its historical accuracy right from the beginning. Despite its adaptation from a book, which was in turn loosely inspired by some poorly reported events, some of the characters in the film could be identified with real individuals. And some of those people were still alive. And some of them complained noisily.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Bridge on the River Kwai" is two big movies in one, and they're both
fantastic. Both tell fantastic tales of duty and self-sacrifice through
big personalities brought to life by incomparable actors. But there are
no idealized heroes here; everyone is as much wrong as they are right,
and they are as motivated by pride and stubbornness as much as
principles. While a power-tripping General Saito (Sessue Hayakawa)
tests Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness)'s commitment to the
international rules of war, a crack saboteur (Jack Hawkins) dragoons a
deserter (William Holden) into doing a soldier's duty. These stories
are ingeniously structured and interwoven so that all threads come to
unexpected and compromised conclusions. A character may appear to win
his battle, but if so, we may be certain that he will lose his war, and
vice versa. Nicholson manfully (as the British might say) makes his
point about the treatment of prisoners, and it is stirring to see him
submit to severe mistreatment for the sake of an idea. But his real
objective is not to uphold the rule of law, but to wound the pride of
his foe, Saito, and to establish himself as the most influential
albeit imprisonedfigure in the camp. Once done, he zealously carries
out the task Saito always intended for him, and in the fullness of his
pride he does it better than he otherwise might have. Meanwhile, the
would-be deserter Shears escapes from the prison camp and nearly
escapes from the army as well, but the saboteur Warden traps him with
the rule book. Nicholson and Shears are each prisoners, and each is
used as a means to an end, but their arcs are also inversions of one
another. Nicholson faces down his captor, but the determination that
brought him that victory is also what leads him to undermine the army
he loves. Shears submits to Warden and to the inescapable logic of the
army he longs to leave, but in the end his personal sacrifice is a net
gain for the cause. Lest the army come out smelling like a rose,
victorious and free of compromise, Hawkins plays Warden as a cold man
who in a second would sacrifice not only the charming audience
surrogate Shears, but a group of female Thai porters as well. His
Pyrrhic destruction of Nicholson's magnificent if misguided bridge is
the occasion of the film's final word: "Madness!" There is a great deal
of madness on display, but it is conveyed through wide-awake plotting
David Lean's direction and Jack Hildyard's cinematography convey sweltering heat: the heat of the jungle, of Saito's tent and Nicholson's box, of Shears's beach and Warden's bungalow. But there is also a conscious distance separating audience from action. Whether framing a huge, explosive set piece with dozens of extras or a tense huddle over a table, the cameras are detached observers rather than participants. We see the big picture and think about why people act the way they do in their particular settings. We know them better than they know themselves, and understand each truth before it dawns on them. "Kwai," then, is a thing that hardly exists now: a big-budget war film that is observational and cerebral, not just gritty and melodramatic. Nor is it a simple matter of good versus evil. Though not at all a complicated movie to follow, its moral complexity is such that British audiences (and even some of the British actors) could feel it was anti-British, while Japanese audiences found it anti-Japanese. The movie is critical of all blind zealotry, and no wonder: screenwriters Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson had to go uncredited as a result of a Hollywood blacklist. Despite being an an uncomfortable watch for partisans and flag-wavers of all stripes, "Kwai" was a huge hit with audiences and critics, winning the 1958 box office and heaps of awards. Not everything has held up in the nearly 60 years since. The day-for-night shots, standard at the time, are particularly unconvincing. But the challenging messages and the flawed characters still hit hard and loom large, and the dramatic finale remains one of the great benchmarks of cinema.
Okay, my summary is aimed at some of the, quite frankly) ridiculous
poor reviews of this movie and in particular the reasons given as to
why they have rated this movie so poorly, some of them are quite
simply, anti British, one idiot even has a go at it's historical
inaccuracies, this by a reviewer from America which has produced more
historically inaccurate WW2 films than I can shake a stick at. Oh and
the reviewer who said it was the worst film they had ever seen (there
is always one) they must have seen a grand total of two in their
lifetime, this and Raging Bull and tbh, this is better than Raging Bull
in my opinion, some will agree with my view others won't, that's life,
but, few will agree with that particular reviewer that this is the
worst film ever.
This is a marvellous movie that won it's Oscars justifiably, Alec Guinness is unsurpassable as Nicholson, William Holden is pretty darn good as Shears and Sessue Hayakawa is excellent, if at time illegible as Saito. Not enough credit is given to James Donald as Clipton, who is almost the only voice of sanity among the main protagonists and there is a fabulous supporting cast of British character actors to boot.
My only quibble, and David Lean's too, was the Producer and studio's insistence of having a love interest put in for Shear's character, it was unnecessary and I'm sure if there had been a way to edit it out for VHS/DVD release then Lean may well have done it as it is a pointless distraction. But, at the time a film without a female in it was practically unthinkable, thank god times have changed.
One of the finest War movies, heck no, movies ever made. David Lean rarely put a foot wrong in any of his movies (Ryan's Daughter possibly, but, still a great, but, not fantastic film)
David Lean directed this superb, Academy Award winning(best picture and director) film set in a Japanese WWII POW camp for British(and one American) soldiers. Alec Guiness(Academy Award winner for best actor) stars as Col. Nicholson, who is subjected to harsh treatment(the sweat box) by Col. Saito in defiance of his authority, and for the respect he and his men are entitled to. Saito gives in, and Nicholson then proceeds with the original plan to build a railway bridge in the jungle to help the Japanese with their resupplying efforts. William Holden plays the American among them who escapes to freedom, but is persuaded to return with a Major Warden(played by Jack Hawkins) on a mission to destroy the bridge that Nicholson is now determined to complete! Fine war film and character study about personal vs. patriotic motives in war, and how they can both collide and collude... Memorable ending and final quote says it all.
I've made a list of the top 10 favorite movies that I would to watch over and over again. These 10 movies will forever be near my heart and always influenced me to be a movie director in the future. The Bridge on the River Kwai is definitely one of the top 10 favorite films on my list. Of course, I also enjoyed and love other great movies as well. Other movies included on the my list are: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bullitt, The Terminator, Thief, Lethal Weapon, The Wild Bunch and Alien. The Bridge on the River Kwai is also included. The movie is set in Burma during World War II. The year is 1943, and British POW's are being held up in Japanese war camps. One of those British POW's is Colonel Nicholson, played by Alec Guinness, who won an Academy Award for his role in this movie. Nicholson and his fellow men are assigned to build a bridge that will be used for a railway that will go through the Burmese jungle. Meanwhile, another POW, an American, played by William Holden, plans to blow up the bridge and sets off into the jungle to escape from the camp. Eventually, Holden and his recruits are all rounded to destroyed what is being constructed. David Lean is a cinematic master. His work is eye-popping and very vivid to look at. However, he is not one of my favorite directors. But, what I like about this movie is the way he tells the story. Some people may called it a war movie. But, others, like myself, would say that this movie is both a war movie, but most importantly, a war movie about individuals. So many war movies reflect on the pain of war. A lot of them reflect on the horrors of war itself. The Bridge on the River Kwai is a war movie about people. The people in this movie are devoted to be put into a plot that involves having to struggle and survive this snaring scenario. As we watch Bridge on the River Kwai, we are reminded that the two leading characters are different men coming from different backgrounds. One is honorable, but arrogant among his men. The other is not honorable and damaging, perhaps. These two men are stuck in a story where the only thing that stands in their way is a bridge. As a matter of fact, the bridge also plays a significant role in the movie. The bridge is a mark of the Japanese colonel, who assigned Nicholson to build the bridge. The Bridge on the River Kwai won 7 Oscars, including Best Picture. I like it a lot. Much of it is based on the story, direction and characters. I like when movies break new ground with their original stories. It's films like this one that reminds us how much we love movies. David Lean should be proud of making this movie, since it struggled through a troubled production. An excellent movie for the generation of film-makers. ★★★★ 4 stars.
I thoroughly enjoy this film,though I find it to be a rather odd story.Looking at it realistically,I find it hard to believe that a British commander,or any other commander,would give in to the will of the enemy under any circumstances,but I realize that even films based on true events can never be told 100% accurately,so I have no problem seeing as a great fictionalized account of true events.All the performances were excellent,particularly those of Alec Guiness and Bill Holden.If you are looking for a different type of war story,you have a winner in this one,but I would advise not reading up on how things really happened on The River Kwaiuntil after viewing it.It may make the film a disappointment to you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is not your typical movie. The Bridge On the River Kwai is in that
exclusive class of movies which makes you think.
Throughout the movie, you are left wondering who to root for. Without spoiling too much, even at the very end, it is hard to decide who was right and who was wrong. It makes for a very different movie experience.
The only negative this movie has is its length. This movie is VERY long, but with such a great story, it is much more bearable. Other than that, there is nothing else bad to say about this movie.
All in all, this movie is a must see. Between the great acting and interesting story, there is something here for everyone.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a World War II film. One of those big
movie war epics. But epic though it may be this film is not about the
massive global conflict. This is a small story, a story really of two
men and their war of wills. The fact that these two men are each in
their own way quite mad makes for a fascinating story. It's a story
with great moments of triumph and bitter moments of despair. It's a
story of great bravery in the face of unspeakable brutality. But
really, at its heart, it's a story of madness.
The story unfolds in a Japanese prison camp in the jungles of Thailand. A large unit of British prisoners proudly and defiantly whistle a famous march as they are brought into the camp. They have no idea what they're in for. Perhaps some of them noticed the graves being dug as they were marched in. That should serve as a hint. This camp is an impossibly terrible place, led by a brutal, seemingly sadistic man in the camp commandant Colonel Saito. The strong-willed Saito will meet his match in the British commanding officer Colonel Nicholson, a man who lives by rules and stands on principle. But Nicholson will immediately find that in this camp there are no rules and there certainly don't seem to be much in the way of principles either. Saito has a job for his new British prisoners. They are to build a bridge over the River Kwai. And the British officers will be forced to perform manual labor alongside their men. Nicholson cannot abide the officers being put to work, it's against the rules. Where does standing up for the rules get Nicholson? Locked inside a small iron box that's where.
And so the war of wills begins. Saito has a bridge to be built and he has a deadline. He will complete this bridge by any means necessary because if he fails he will have no choice but to kill himself. Madness. Meanwhile Nicholson stands on principle which only leads to torture and a seemingly inevitable death for himself and his officers. Madness. From a certain perspective it can be said that Nicholson shows great bravery. But to what end? In playing this brave, principled, somewhat deranged man Alec Guinness turns in an astonishing performance. There is little doubt Guinness is the best thing the film has to offer. And he has a worthy foil in Sessue Hayakawa who plays Saito. Two great actors portraying two stubborn men who are too set in their ways to change. And their stubbornness can only have dire consequences.
The story of the camp and the building of the bridge is fascinating, dramatic and highly charged. Unfortunately there is a parallel storyline which does not work nearly as well. William Holden plays Shears, an American who escapes from the camp early on in the film. As he recovers he clearly enjoys his newfound freedom as he waits to be shipped back home. He's living the good life, including partaking in a romantic dalliance which seems to serve no purpose other than to shoehorn a female character into the film someplace. But Shears, much to his consternation, finds that he's not going home. He's going back to the prison camp along with a team of British commandos who are going to blow up the bridge.
Holden's performance is perfectly fine, as are those of the other actors in this section of the film, but the story of the attempt to blow up the bridge doesn't engage the way the story of the bridge's building does. Time spent away from Nicholson and Saito, Guinness and Hayakawa, is for this movie time not well spent. By this point in the movie we're utterly fascinated with Nicholson and the rather bizarre pride he takes in his men's efforts to build the bridge. His bridge. It's not Saito's bridge anymore which causes the Japanese commander no small sense of shame. The story of Nicholson and Saito, Nicholson mostly, is incredibly compelling. And Guinness is so perfect in his portrayal of this brave but mad man that you really miss his presence when the film veers away from its main storyline to follow the trek of the commando team through the jungle. But at least you know something quite spectacular is bound to occur when the two threads of the plot come together. Madness indeed.
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