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A powerful statement on the madness of war

Author: brchthethird from United States
5 February 2015

Why I waste my time watching all of the newest films that come out (of course, not all of them are bad) when there are plenty of tried-and-true classics waiting to be discovered is something I'll never completely understand. It's not even like I have the excuse that I don't know about them, or even don't have the time (because I do). Still, I do like the feeling of seeing something for the first time and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI delivered everything I expected and more. The story is set during WWII and is about a group of British POWs who arrive at a Japanese labor camp in the Burmese jungle (modern-day Myanmar). They are tasked with building a bridge over the Kwai River, but initially have difficulty because the camp's commander Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) has a clash of wills with their own commander, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness). There is also an American POW, Shears (William Holden) who manages to escape but is "recruited" to lead a team back to the jungle to blow up the bridge.

If there's one thing that David Lean knows how to do, it's craft an epic film and that's exactly what he did here. It did drag a little bit for me in the first hour, but it was an engrossing watch after that point. It almost goes without saying that this film is perfect from a technical standpoint, and some truly great images were captured. The acting was also just as good, especially from the three key players: Alec Guiness, Sessue Hayakawa, and William Holden. Each of them brought their A-game and turned in probably the best performances of their entire careers. One aspect of the story I really liked was the psychological battle of wills that occurs between Saito and Nicholson. Both of them were equal in rank, but also similar in their approach to their own specific situations. One might say that they were cut from the same cloth. William Holden rounds out this trio of characters by portraying a man who is drafted for a difficult task in spite of his desire to just keep on surviving, and in a cruel turn of irony, puts him at cross-purposes with Nicholson who feels like he is doing good work by building the bridge.

Although the film plays it rather close to the vest in terms of message-making, only really making its statement in the final minutes, I thought that it handled the subject of war in a rather balanced and mature way despite taking a stand against it. Nobody is turned into a villain, instead having each major character be an unwitting foil to the other in a way that suggests what is later explicitly stated (by the medic) as madness. It's not perhaps the most original of anti-war statements, but it was portrayed to extremely good effect. Also, the last 20 minutes or so is as riveting and tense as anything that has come out since. Granted, it's not perfect as there is a rather superfluous romance between Shears and his nurse but, studio-mandated love interest aside, this film stands as not only one of the best anti-war films ever made, but one of the best films period.

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Slightly Underwhelming But A Memorable Piece Of Work Nonetheless

Author: CinemaClown
18 January 2015

There's a lot to admire about The Bridge on the River Kwai. It's a grand production put together amazingly well by David Lean & benefits greatly from his composed direction, some wonderful performances as well as its expertly executed third act. Yet when compared to its near- unanimous praise, it turned out to be slightly underwhelming experience for me.

The story of The Bridge on the River Kwai is set in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War where the newly arrived British prisoners of war are ordered to construct a railway bridge; a task which is later overseen by their senior officer after his conditions are accepted but he's completely oblivious of the allies' plan to destroy it.

Directed by David Lean, this is the second film of his that I've seen, first being Lawrence of Arabia & he really seems to have a knack when it comes to handling a huge cast. Production design work is breathtaking, camera-work is controlled, editing is what I've a problem with for the film felt overlong & its finely composed score has one really catchy piece.

Coming to the performances, the cast comprises of William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins & others, and their performances are very good. Holden chips in nicely & also brings along the much appreciated humour. Hawkins enters the film quite late yet leaves his mark in the end. But this is Guinness' show all the way plus there's one scene showing him walking from one place to another & the way he did it, it's a classic moment right there.

On an overall scale, it's not difficult to determine why The Bridge on the River Kwai is considered a memorable classic. It's enjoyable, entertaining & even rewarding but being a long film, it also requires a bit of patience. The final act is easily one of the best ones around for it is incredibly tense, ingeniously filmed & culminates the story on a stunning high. Even though the film didn't match my expectations, I've no hesitation in recommending it to anyone. Definitely worth a shot.

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American Versus British Values

Author: disinterested_spectator from United States
6 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is about a clash of cultures, partly between East and West, the Orient and the Occident, but even more so between America and Great Britain, between American cynicism, individualism, and egalitarianism on the one hand, and idealistic, class-conscious British collectivism on the other.

Shears is the sole American in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, while the rest of the prisoners are British. This underscores his individualism. It turns out later that he is really an enlisted man posing as an officer, showing his contempt for class distinctions. He thought being an officer would mean that he would not have to work as hard as a prisoner. Since that did not go as planned, he bribes the guards to give him light duty. And he regularly ridicules the British dedication to the war effort.

The British on the other hand regard the distinction between officers and enlisted men as sacrosanct. This is especially embodied in commanding officer Colonel Nicholson, who balks when he finds out, as did Shears, that the Japanese camp commander, Colonel Saito, requires officers to work right alongside the enlisted men. He refuses to order his men to work and suffers several days of harsh punishment as a result. Saito eventually has to relent and let the British officers merely supervise the work of enlisted men, because he needs to get the title bridge built.

But then, half-way through the movie, after Shears has escaped and winds up in a British hospital, everything goes into reverse. Major Warden, a British officer, coerces Shears into going back to sabotage the railroad bridge in the camp he escaped from, which will allow Shears to avoid being prosecuted for impersonating an officer. The other member of the team will be Lieutenant Joyce, so Warden says he will make Shears a major for the purpose of the mission, so that the rigid distinction between officers and enlisted men will not have to be observed.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Nicholson is anxious to get the bridge built, and to build it as an example of British engineering excellence. The other officers are in favor of surreptitiously delaying the building of the bridge and making sure that it is inferior, so as to minimize their assistance to the enemy, but Nicholson thinks that building a bridge that will redound to British glory for hundreds of years is more important than its effect on the war. Furthermore, when he realizes that they are behind schedule, he violates the very code he fought for, and gets the officers to work alongside the enlisted men. He even asks men in the camp hospital to get out of their beds and pitch in.

In spite of himself, Shears ends up being the officer in charge of the mission, sacrificing himself in order to destroy the bridge, while Nicholson dies realizing the enormity of what he has done.

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Changed the way I look at war movies!

Author: Patrick Leamon from Ohio
28 November 2014

The reason why I gave this movie a 10/10 is because not a movie before or since has shown me war in the same way. I am not implying that I have watched every war movie out there but of the one I have I can honestly say this movie is really unique. This movie is great for a number of reasons but what really makes this movie great in my opinion is that it does not glorify war like some movies (G.I Joe an obvious example) or show the tragedies of war (one example is Full Metal Jacket.) This movies shows war in a totally different light. War is not good or mad but a matter of principle. Both Colonel Nicholson and Colonel Saito are crazy and would rather dying than give in to the other. The struggle between these two for me show that war is not good or bad but a struggle and both you and your enemy are in the same struggle, the struggle to succeed, the struggle to survive. Not everything is black and white.

Another dynamic that plays into the movie is that at the same time this bridge is trying to be built the British forces are trying to destroy the bridge. This movie does a really good job of showing different sides to this struggle, not just the POW's side but also who the Japanese commander' side and also the British trying to destroy's side throughout the movie.

Lastly, This movie had some amazing performances by Alec Guinness who played Colonel Nicholson, Sessue Hayakawa who played Colonel Saito, but I really enjoyed everyone in this movie and I didn't think this movie had a bad performance. Also this movie had amazing directing by David Lean, editing by Peter Taylor and cinematography by Jack Hildyard.

This movie is one of the greatest movies in cinema history. What this movie did that I have never seen before or since was is didn't look at war as good or bad but a struggle.

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Still holding it's own

Author: jdonalds-5 from United States
13 November 2014

Contrary to many movies more than 50 years old this one holds up quite well. While it was long it held my interest all the way through. Often the pace of these old movies is slow but this one moved along at a comfortable pace. The story, while fiction, was entirely plausible. I like WWII movies and this one is a very good one.

Alec Guinness (AKA Obi-Wan) was perfectly cast in this movie. He was such a great actor. William Holden was also cast well with his ability to portray a lazy entitled individual believably. No other actor than Sessue Hayakawa would have fit is part as well.

I may have seen this movie 10 times over the years and I just had to see it again. The price of this movie in a WWII series of DVDs was only $7, quite the bargain for such a great movie.

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Deeper and better than may at first appear

Author: jedo_team from Netherlands
10 November 2014

This is an awesome film.

I am not sure I will find many words to express this, but this film is really special and plays out in a manner I did not expect it to.

Contrary to almost every other World War II movie, there is an uncanny realism and variation to everything, especially the people.

This is probably because it is not a movie about the war or being in a prison camp, despite that being the background for it.

This movie is about the characters and what drives them. And to show that properly you get some superb acting.

I was a bit disappointed by the excessive use of the forever fake-looking day-for-night technique (though it was more day-for-dusk). It must have been a bane of movies back then like CGI is today. Other than that the movie looked pretty good.

Nice film, holds up well and so highly recommended.

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Good movie. For me, it just lacks strong comedic or emotional outlet.

Author: L R from Slovenia
7 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie really is good. The plot is great. And the actors are great.

But to be honest, for some reason this movie is not the most watchable. It is too "militant". Well it is a military movie of course, but still, it just lacks something to me. For my taste. Maybe more jokes or a playful character. Or even a bit different directing. I also miss some scenes with up-close face to face conversation with some emotions. Those are the things that raise the value of a movie.

*************** SPOILERS BELOW ******************************

The ending is interesting. I believe Nicholson (Alec Guinness) set off the bombs deliberately (and not by accidentally as many seem to believe, because they reason - that "he would never intentionally destroy a bridge which he had been working on for so long"). In the final scene the Colonel (=Nicholas = Alec Guinness) says "what have I done", presumably realizing he's been collaborating with the Japanese. Then he runs towards the detonator, before being mortally wounded by Warden's mortar shell. Unless he was planning the set off the bombs, he wouldn't run towards the detonator. So, right at the end he realizes , that in the big picture it doesn't matter that the Brits may got a nice recognition for building a bridge , it is much more important to serve your country, and not help your opponent. (As his medic friend tries to tell him throughout the movie)

I did have some issues with this movie. But it is however undeniable that BotRK is a very good movie , especially for its time!

Real rating: 7.7


9.35 - 10 = rating 10 ***** 8.6 - 9.3 = rating 9 ***** 7.8 - 8.5 = rating 8 ***** 7.0 - 7.7 = rating 7

6.0 - 7.0 = 6 5.0 - 6.0 = 5 4.0 - 5.0 = 4 3.0 - 4.0 = 3 2.0 - 3.0 = 2 1.0 - 2.0 = 1

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Pure madness from Alec Guinness

Author: SnoopyStyle
2 September 2014

Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) is the cruel commander in charge of a POW camp in Burma. Shears (William Holden) is an American who has a dim view of the whole war after losing most of his men in the camp. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) is the highest ranking British officer who leads his men into the camp. He insists on maintaining the Geneva Conventions and refuses to entertain escape. Saito orders the prisoner to build a bridge. It's a struggle between Saito and Nicholson for his limited control about whether officers can be forced to do manual labor. The bridge building is not going well with the men working half-heartedly and sabotage. Finally Saito agrees to give Nicholson command as he task his men to build the best bridge possible. Meanwhile Shears manages to escape the camp. He is blackmailed to guide a demolition squad back to blow up the bridge.

Alec Guinness is truly great in his performance. He is stubborn and principled. The problem is that his principles does nothing but drive him to help the Japanese and into madness. His foil Saito is just as mad. All of it culminates into one of the most compelling scene of Nicholson's breakdown.

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The best performances of both William Holden and Alec Guinness

Author: jgrivero from Asbury New Jersey
25 May 2014

David Lean's masterpiece form the year 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic WWII treasure to cinema. With both William Holden and Alec Guinness giving their finest performances yet, Based on a true story , this movie was a total great that can be watched over and over again. the movie compares to history movie classics like Schindler's List, Malcolm X, Spartacus, and Gladiator. Director David Lean really worked his heart out in order to make into an Oscar winning success which is why he won his first Oscar for directing this movie in the very first place. I would recommend this movie for all people that are into any period pieces like this one that will stay with you for a very long time.

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"Madness... madness... "

Author: Wuchak from Ohio/PA border
18 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I haven't seen David Lean's award-winning "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957) for so long that I forgot how great it is. It's not a conventional war film and therefore there's very little action; the "action" is mostly psychological. I remember watching it on TV a few times with my dad when I was about 7-12 years old and even then, with such little understanding of the world and its social workings, I was fascinated by the picture and knew it was great -- even then.

THE PLOT: A platoon of British soldiers are brought to a Japanese POW camp in Burma during World War II to help build a strategic railway bridge over the River Kwai. The Jap Colonel in charge of the camp, Saito, insists that the British officers work along with the enlisted men. The British Colonel, Nicholson, stubbornly objects to this based on the Geneva Convention, a copy of which he carries around in his pocket. He insists that there are rules to be followed, even in war. What ensues is a battle of wills between the two. Ultimately Nicholson is put in charge of building the bridge, which he takes so much pride in he fails to see that he's aiding the enemy. Meanwhile, an American sailor, Shears, escapes the camp and later leads a group of Brits on a mission to destroy the bridge.

Although Colonel Nicholson, played by Alec Guinness, is a fascinating character -- an ultra-proper stiff-upper-lip Brit -- and certainly worthy of respect as far as his utter boldness goes, he's what my dad would call a "goon." (My dad served during WWII and died in 1988). Nicholson is so infected by pride, stubbornness and a sense of superiority that he can't see the obvious. Yes, he's a realistic and fascinating character, but I find him to be a total moron who can't see the forest for the trees. It goes without saying that I can't relate to him at all.

Colonel Saito, the Japanese commander of the camp, ultimately accepts that it's in his best interest to allow Nicholson to believe he's running the show in order to get the bridge built. This is obviously a struggle for Saito because he has pride as well; but he refuses to allow it to get in the way of fulfilling his mission. 'Let Nicholson build the bridge and believe he's in charge and superior,' he seems to figure, 'In reality he's my pawn and a pawn of the Japanese military machine.' (Others may interpret this scenario differently, likely suggesting that Saito is the loser in the test of wills, moping around in bewildered defeat throughout the rest of the picture, but that's not what's really going on IMHO).

William Holden expertly plays Shears, the American who escapes the camp and comes back to attempt to destroy the bridge. He's the the character I relate to most. On the surface he appears completely selfish -- doing whatever he must to survive, including lying and bribing. Shears has lived with the madness of war the longest and naturally develops a sarcastic, anti-hero callousness to protect himself and survive with his sanity intact. Despite the negative, selfish vibe you get from Shears, he never loses his humanity. He refuses to become an inhuman machine like Nicholson or Major Warden (Jack Hawkins), the latter of whom leads the British mission to destroy the bridge.

For example, as Warden and his party travel through the jungle Warden becomes injured and insists that the rest leave him behind to die, arguing that he would do precisely the same if anyone else was injured. Shears blows up at this point; he's seen enough of this idiotic machine-like do-or-die mentality. He yells, "You make me sick with your heroics! ... You and Colonel Nicholson, you're two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like gentlemen? How to die by the rules? When the only important thing is how to live like a human being!" As captivating as the first hour is with the psychological conflict between Nicholson and Saito, the remaining hour and 41 minutes is even more engaging as the two story lines develop and ultimately converge: Nicholson building the bridge and celebrating its completion, along with his now-comrade Saito, while Shears & Warden and their team travel to the bridge and attempt to implement it's destruction.

I just saw the film the other day but hadn't seen it for 8 years or so and I actually forgot exactly how it ended, as far as who dies, etc. Don't worry, I'm not going to give any major details away; you've probably forgotten the details as well, that is, if you've even seen it before. In any event, the ending is brilliant and potent. The Allied doctor of the camp looks on in utter disbelief at the climatic results. "Madness... madness..." is all he can manage to mutter. Powerful.

Needless to say, this is filmmaking of the highest order on every level. The Sri Lanka locations are breath-taking. The only negative I can muster is that parts of the score are understandably dated seeing as how it was released in 1957. But that whistling theme is hugely memorable, of course.

I could probably write a book about all the great scenes, lines and points the film makes but I'd rather you discover (or re-discover) everything for yourself. There's so much depth here that you'll get something new with each viewing. It goes without saying that "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is one of the best pictures ever made and one of my all-time favorites.

Grade: A

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