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The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

tomatometer

94

Average Rating: 8.9/10
Reviews Counted: 50
Fresh: 47 | Rotten: 3

This complex war epic asks hard questions, resists easy answers, and boasts career-defining work from star Alec Guinness and director David Lean.

70

Average Rating: 6.9/10
Critic Reviews: 10
Fresh: 7 | Rotten: 3

This complex war epic asks hard questions, resists easy answers, and boasts career-defining work from star Alec Guinness and director David Lean.

audience

94

liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 52,882

My Rating

Movie Info

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 (Sessue Hayakawa) and newly arrived British colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness). 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

PG,

Drama, Action & Adventure, Classics

Carl Foreman, Michael Wilson

Nov 21, 2000

Columbia Pictures

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All Critics (50) | Top Critics (10) | Fresh (47) | Rotten (3) | DVD (30)

Has no one else found it highly peculiar that damn near everybody's choice for the best movie of (let's say) the decade should be dedicated, inferentially but absolutely, to the proposition that Courage is Madness and Cowardice is Best?

February 3, 2014 Full Review Source: Village Voice
Village Voice
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Part of the success of The Bridge is that its courageous hero is shown from all angles, in all kinds of mirrors. He is strong, stubborn, fallible, maniacal, silly, and wise; and in the end he is pathetic, noble, and foolish.

January 23, 2013 Full Review Source: The New Republic
The New Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

From sky to ground in two shots, and it already feels like we've traversed a great distance, with two and a half hours of skillful, suspenseful WWII adventure to go.

September 22, 2010 Full Review Source: Time Out New York
Time Out New York
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It is a whale of a story, and in the telling of it, British Director David Lean does a whale of a job.

February 18, 2009 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A gripping drama, expertly put together and handled with skill in all departments.

February 19, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

For what it is, it ain't bad, though it serves mainly as an illustration of the ancient quandary of revisionist moviemakers: if all you do is systematically invert cliches, you simply end up creating new ones.

December 13, 2006 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (10)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Few Second World War films are as enduring as this multi-Oscar-winning examination of the stiff upper lip from director David Lean.

February 3, 2014 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

It's certainly weathered well thanks to its novel and ingenious approach to presenting multiple perspective of the Second World War.

February 11, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

The Bridge on the River Kwai amused and excited me.

February 11, 2013 Full Review Source: The Nation
The Nation

Epic of WWII honor and sacrifice gone haywire.

December 15, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

The Bridge on the River Kwai is David Lean's last film not to succumb to bloat.

September 20, 2010 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

[Lean] somehow managed a very pleasing balance.

September 10, 2010 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

An epic movie which is large in scope and personnel, The Bridge on the River Kwai speaks of the code of honour amongst men during war, the respect shared by enemies of war, and the madness which war evokes.

July 7, 2010 Full Review Source: Matt's Movie Reviews
Matt's Movie Reviews

A towering work.

February 19, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Guinness, Lean and British war cinema have never been better.

February 19, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

One of THE great action sagas, and at the top of David Lean's form.

July 2, 2007
Video-Reviewmaster.com

Antiheroic war epic.

April 2, 2007 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Alec Guinness' outstanding performance is one of the many things that work in David Lean's intriguing epic.

November 8, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

Still one of the most rousing war films, Lean's epic is rich in characters and marked by an ironic and ambiguous POV in the way that it depicts the conflict between Guinness, Hayakawa, and Holden, as individuals and symbols of their national cultures.

July 15, 2006 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

Alec Guinness won his only non-honorary Oscar for this film (did you know he'd be nominated for writing the following year?), and boy is it deserved.

February 23, 2006 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

Audience Reviews for The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a near flawless war drama based on the fiction book by French author Pierre Boulle. I thought that this was a great film, but it wasn't as flawless as many critics have said it was. I found myself enjoying the film, but at times I felt that the film could have been a lot more authentic and showed what life was really like in the POW camps. Directed by director David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a well made film that does have great performances, but is not without its flaws. Alec Guinness is wonderful as the insane Col. Nicholson and the movie displays his downward spiral into madness, and he delivers in his role. The plot itself is wonderful, and has something to offer classic war film fans. Like I said, this is not a perfect film, and it could have been better in some areas. David Lean would go on to direct Lawrence of Arabia, a far more superior drama and it would be a much grander picture in scope and execution. This is nonetheless a great film, but compared to The Great Escape, and Lawrence of Arabia, it really isn't as strong due to its portrayal of the lead characters being in league with the Japanese, and that's something that disturbed me. This is a brilliant film and it is a must see classic for fans of old War drama films. Like I said, the film is not perfect, but is a necessary film to watch if you're a fan of cinema. Alec Guinness is great, and he plays the character in such a way that you don't know whether to like him or not, which is a nice touch. The Bridge on the River Kwai is a flawed, but very good film, and if you've enjoyed this film or not, you definitely should check out David Lean's other war drama, Lawrence of Arabia, which is filmmaking at its finest. If you love David Lean's work, then give this one a shot, one of the classic war films that have had a profound impact on the genre for years to come.
November 27, 2012
TheDudeLebowski65
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a tough one for me to review. The reason I've never watched it before is because of my Grandfather. He was a POW and worked on the Burma-Siam railway which included bridges which would have crossed the River Kwai. He took my father and Uncle to see this film when it was released. My father told me the story that he was very insistent that they see the film so that they could see what he went through - having never spoken of the war since his return. After seeing the film he was so outraged, disappointed and ultimately let down, he never spoke of the war again until the day he died, which after years of torture, over-work and starvation, was at a very young age. My grandfather took umbrage to the mixture of fact and fiction. Made only 15 years after the actual events and seeing how twisted and false he, his fellow prisoners and officers were represented was an insult to him. Years ago I decided to look into my family history and I researched him, his regiment and all I could regarding his time as a POW. A lot of what I found I didn't even pass onto my father, needless to say the info I found was not of a pleasant time. Why then they decided to use real people's names but in different circumstances is beyond me. Fiction is fiction and fact is fact, mixing the two is a very dangerous thing, judging by many of the reviews here, many don't realise this film is fiction and did not happen. The film is well acted and looks beautiful but ultimately is an insult to the memory of the men on both sides, that were there. I don't care if it's Mel Gibson, Disney or the great David Lean, it's not right and I don't like it. Change the men's names and tweak it here and there and I would have liked this film just as much as everyone else but as it is I find it immoral and disrespectful and historically dangerous in its neglect of the truth. Does it really matter? Yes, in this circumstance it most certainly does! Why change a perfectly interesting part of history anyway, the madness, the madness indeed. One star for the acting and one star for the aesthetics, that's all I can give.
May 8, 2012
SirPant

Super Reviewer

A stubborn English Colonel locks horns with a similarly duty-bound Japanese prison camp commander over the building of a strategically important railway bridge during the second world war. David Lean's prisoner of war story is a tale of obsession, and it is the battle of wills between Alec Guiness and his Japanese counterpart that forms the core of the story. Examining the cliche of the British stiff upper lip, although Guiness' obstinate refusal to co-operate with the enemy gives his men the spirit to carry on, it is more his own personal obsession (bordering on insanity) than heroism that eggs him on. On the other side of the coin, it is William Holden's hustling commander, actually more interested in self-preservation (echoing his role in Stalag 17) who must show him the error of his ways during an unforgettable finale that brilliantly captures the madness of war. It is maybe a little longer than it needs to be, as the central section away from the bridge itself is rather less interesting, but Guiness' performance is superb, and this film is rightly considered as an all-time classic.
February 17, 2012
garyX
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

Based on a novel based on true events, this is a historical epic set during World War II in Japanese controlled Burma about a group of British POWs in a prison camp who are tasked with building a bridge that will aid the Japanese with their transportation needs. It starts as a battle of wills between the Camp overlord, and the British Colonel tasked with leading the construction. It also becomes a battle of wills between an American who escaped from the camp but is told he will avoid court martial if he helps a group of Brits. destroy the vital bridge. Got all that? Good. It's actually pretty easy to follow. It only seems complex.

Directed by David Lean, this is, as you'd probably expect, a sweeping epic that is gloriously British to the core. As far as the events and storylines go, it's pretty neat and compact, but only seems super epic given the running time. I actually rather like that this was a film that focused primarily on a singular event (through various perspectives) instead of trying to look at the broader spectrum of this part of the world in 1943.

By focusing on a narrow event, this allwos for the possibility to really get into the minds and conflicts of the characters, specifically how Col. Nicholson is bound and determined to complete the bridge to perfection, even if it does benefit the enemy and drive him mad as a result. The performances are top notch, with Guinness and Holden taking top honors, though Hayakawa is superb as well. The cinematography is wonderful, the location shooting looks great, and the music, especially the insanely cathcy "Colonel Bogey March" are great too.

This is an all around great film with few flaws (if any, really). It's lengthy, but it cruises right along, and never feels like a chore, and I really appreciate that. It's got a great and interesting story, goes about telling it in a neat way, and is really fun and entertaining to watch. Sure, i'd be happier with stricter adherence to historical and military accuracy, but that's not what the point of this film is.

Definitely give this one a shot. It's really quite something.
December 5, 2011
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Le Pont de la rivière Kwai (FR)
  • El puente sobre el rio Kwai (ES)
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