The Bridge on the River Kwai Reviews
Exquisitely plotted, this film is remarkably compelling from beginning to end. At almost three hours, the film's run time is typical of David Lean, who doesn't care how long a film is; he cares how long it's good. The performance by Alec Guinness is the strongest, as he's able to convey his character's journey subtly, and William Holden is as charmingly surly as William Holden has always been.
The film's themes of ambition and the need for purpose come through, and the cinematography is beautiful.
Overall, this film is a classic for good reason.
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.
The Colonel Nicholson character is based on the allied camp commander, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey, who was a remarkable officer by any standards.
Awarded the DSO for heroism during the defence of Singapore, he refused an order to join the evacuation so he could remain with his men during captivity. In the hellish conditions of the camp, he worked courageously to ensure that as many of his men as possible would survive. He endured regular beatings when he complained of ill-treatment of prisoners, but as a skilled negotiator he was able to win many concessions from the Japanese by convincing them that this would speed the completion of the work. Behind their backs, however, he did everything possible to delay and sabotage the construction without endangering his men, and also helped organise a daring escape, at considerable cost to himself. For his conduct in the camp, he won the undying respect of his men.
After the war, he showed great generosity of spirit by saving the life of Colonel Saito, second in command at the camp and a relatively decent officer, when he spoke up for him at the war crimes tribunal. He worked for the veterans all his life, and became President of the National Federation of Far Eastern Prisoners of War.
He refused repeated requests by the veterans to speak out against the film, being much too modest to seek any glory or recognition for himself. However you will find his achievements documented in a book by Professor Peter Davies entitled "The Man Behind the Bridge".
Toosey hoped that no one watching the film would believe a British Army officer could be so stupid in real life. But with the film being rated on this site as one of the top 50 movies of all time, this hope may have been misplaced. Enjoy the film by all means as a work of fiction, but it is surely important to set the record straight and recognise the heroism of the real man involved.
Bridge Over the River Kwai is a combination of great film technique and great performance (Alec Guinness in fact, delivers an Oscar-winning performance). It doesn't paint the enemy as all evil, in fact, it shows us war is the aberration and humanity is what is supposed to be normal. Col. Nicholson gets so wrapped up in the building of the bridge, he loses sight of why it's being built in the first place (just as those seeking to destroy it seem to forget who it is they're fighting for). The jungle setting only serves to emphasize the feeling that these characters are on the edge of losing their humanity. By the end, we feel the pain of Nicholson's dilemma and are rooting for him to do the right thing, even if we're not entirely sure what the right thing is.
Colonel Nicholson: I haven't the foggiest.
Colonel Saito: I'll have to kill myself. What would you do if you were me?
Colonel Nicholson: I suppose if I were you... I'd have to kill myself.
Colonel Nicholson: [raising the glass of scotch he previously declined] Cheers!
There is a reason why this film is regarded as one of, if not the best war film of all time - it's because it is. Its a great movie that has an excellent story full of wonderful characters and memorable scenes. And really, its not much of a standard war film involving large scale battles, but more of a character focused story, with various moments of thrills.
Alec Guiness, who is simply awesome throughout, plays Colonel Nicholson a British officer. He and a large squad of his men have just been captured and sent to a Japanese PoW camp in Burma.
There, under the orders of Colonel Saito, also played wonderfully by Sessue Hayakawa, all of the men are being ordered to build a bridge over the river. While Nicholson understands his position and is willing to allow his men to go forth and build the bridge, while under British officer's orders, Saito and Nicholson clash at first due to their own principles. However, this lets up and Nicholson is soon under control of making the best possible bridge, despite being under enemy control.
Colonel Nicholson: One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, Clipton, even in captivity.
At the same time, a previous American prisoner, Major Shears, played by William Holden, escapes after Nicholson's arrival and makes his way to a hospital and army base.
Despite his best efforts however, Shears is soon put in a position to be sent back to the PoW camp with a special team in an effort to blow up the bridge that is under construction.
Maj. Warden: [to Col. Green] Sir, it's most annoying. They say, in view of the time element, they don't think a few practice jumps would be worthwhile.
Major Shears: No?
Maj. Warden: No, they say if you make one jump, you've only got 50% chance of injury, two jumps, 80%, and three jumps, you're bound to catch a backache. The consensus of opinion is that the most sensible thing for Major Shears to do is to go ahead and jump, and hope for the best.
Major Shears: With or without a parachute?
What is very interesting is how the grand scheme of the actual war is of little issue. The movie is not about putting sides against each other, but putting the views and principles of these main characters at odds with each other. Its wonderful to see Guiness' Nicholson always want to stand by how he perceives a situation and fight for it, while Holden goes in between being for himself and working to achieve a goal. It's very well done.
Commander Shears: You mean, you intend to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs?
Colonel Nicholson: Without law, Commander, there is no civilization.
Commander Shears: That's just my point; here, there is no civilization.
Colonel Nicholson: Then we have the opportunity to introduce it.
At two hours and forty-five minutes, there is a not a lot of wasted time. The movie flows wonderfully and looks great. The look of the jungle is perfect, wonderful cinematography. The score also adds to how effective this movie is.
Director David Lean, who is no stranger to epics with films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has made an incredible film that works on all levels. Great.
Major Shears: You make me sick with your heroics! There's a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like the plague. Explosives and L-pills - they go well together, don't they? And with you it's just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, you're two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman... how to die by the rules - when the only important thing is how to live like a human being.