The Bridge on the River Kwai - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Bridge on the River Kwai Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 1, 2011
An excellent war movie focused on characters rather than on battles, with an intense Oscar-winning performance by Alec Guinness. The cinematography is not flawless, with some scenes visibly filmed during the day and darkened to appear as night, but this is compensated by a suspenseful climax that is unforgettable.
Super Reviewer
July 12, 2014
A battalion of British POWs are forced to build a bridge while an American soldier is charged with blowing it up.
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.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2012
Powerful film about an aspect of WWII not many people learn about any more. Excellent performances all around, but particularly striking performance from the idealistic martinet Guinness.
Super Reviewer
November 26, 2012
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.
Super Reviewer
November 9, 2006
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.
Super Reviewer
August 1, 2006
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.
Super Reviewer
½ May 14, 2007
These older type of war movies sure are dependable in their making. Like an old vintage car, that stills runs smoothly on the road and is beautiful to look at. Perhaps not as fast or exciting as the WWII films we're spoiled with these days, but one that has a lot to give nonetheless. Especially in the acting and cinematography department, where it truly excels. A sweeping matinée fit for a rainy afternoon.
Super Reviewer
½ September 6, 2007
The sum of the parts is what makes this classic, and Guinness, in the meantime, earns his Oscar as everyone's idea of stinking British superiority personified.
Super Reviewer
½ January 19, 2007
Synopsis: When British P.O.W.'s build a vital railway bndge in enemy-occupied Burma during World War II,allied commandos are assigned to destroy it at any costs. Director-Producer David Lean's epic World War II action-adventure spectacle that was spectacularly produced within its budget,and astounding cast. Lead by William Holden,Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins,THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI,based on the novel by Pierre Boulle,captured the imagination of the public becoming one of the biggest grossing films of 1957. The winner of seven Academy Awards including Best Picture,Best Director(Lean),Best Actor(Guinness) was filmed on exotic locations and was given the full "Cinemascope" treatment while filmed in breathtaking Technicolor. Even its theme song,which was an old World War I whistling tune,"The Colonel Bogey March" became a massive worldwide hit on the Hit Parade's top 100 charts for all of 1957 and much of 1958 which was itself Oscar nominated for Best Original Song. The greatest of all David Lean's impressive works,this was the one that launch a boxoffice bonanza.
Super Reviewer
½ February 10, 2011
I am normally an admirer of David Lean. But it is difficult to understand why he chose to base this film on a real event at the River Kwai, as it grossly misrepresents the real "Colonel Nicholson" and caused considerable distress to both him and the River Kwai veterans.

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.
Super Reviewer
January 24, 2011
David Lean hates his audience. This film could/should have been an hour shorter. Not because I hate long movies, but because some scenes weren't vital to the film. I liked it and would rate it higher if Lean wasn't he'll bent on making every film 3 & 1/2 hrs long.
Super Reviewer
October 30, 2007
This is a great flick and a classic for a reason. This is a nicely done film with a climactic ending that doesn't fail to please. The cast is amazing and everything fits together nicely. It's one of the more memorable movies I have seen and there is not too much to add except that I recommended to everyone.
Super Reviewer
April 29, 2009
Thrilling epic about British prisoners during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Director David Lean has wisely focused not on the overall conflict, but on the individuals involved and in doing so, has fashioned a perfect fable. Set in a Japanese POW camp, this landmark story features the now classic battle of wills between camp commander Colonel Saito and prisoner Colonel Nicholson. Sessue Hayakawa and Alec Guinness bring a brilliant subtlety to their respective parts. Their characterizations are transcendent: fully formed characters that are noble in their determination, yet critically flawed. The ethical conundrum it raises is just one of the many plot points that makes this drama so mesmerizing. Every 161 minutes of this film just flies by, and I don't say that often.
Super Reviewer
December 24, 2007
Absolutely fantastic film.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
March 18, 2009
"Sir, we're lost in the jungle, a thousand miles from anywhere, we're under the heel of a man who'll stop at nothing to get his way. Trust me, no one will ever know or care what happens to us". It's World War II and the Japanese are forcing P.O.W.'s to build a railroad bridge across a jungle river. American P.O.W. Commander Shears (William Holden) wants nothing more than to escape from this camp after burying so many dead soldiers' bodies, and is quite bemused when Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) comes into camp with his regiment, marching and whistling. Col. Saito, commander of the Japanese camp, is not so bemused however, and let's Nicholson know that everyone, including officers will be doing manual labor, in spite of the Geneva Convention. This doesn't set well with Col. Nicholson and the two are soon engaged in a test of wills. Saito needs Nicholson's help in completing the bridge, and at first tries threats, then torture and finally bribery, but Nicholson doesn't budge. Finally, Saito relents (after weeks of the men doing everything they can to sabotage the building of the bridge), and Nicholson is placed back in command of his troops. Curiously, Nicholson begins to build the bridge in earnest, partly to boost the troops morale, and partly to prove something to the Japanese about British tenacity. Meanwhile, Shears has escaped from the prison camp, only to be coerced into going back to that very same camp with a commando unit to blow up the bridge.

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.
Super Reviewer
June 5, 2008
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a war movie without a war, but it still has a conflict between two or even three sides that makes for a great film that almost borders on cat and mouse. The film opens on a P.O.W. camp commanded by Captain Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) who has been ordered to build the bridge from the title by fresh prison labor in the former of a British squad led by Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness). Nicholson is strictly by the book which endears him to his troops but agitates the lone American prisoner Major Shears (William Holden) and Saito himself. After a battle of wills between Saito and Nicholson the bridge which was supposed to be the Japanese commanders grand project slowly slips into the hands of Col. Nicholson who proves he can do it better and faster and becomes obsessed with the project almost to the point of what could be considered treason.The acting in BOtRK is one of the shining points with Guinness capturing the best acting Oscar in 1957. He becomes the obsessed colonel who wants the bridge to stand as a monument of his own leadership abilities. Hayakawa's Saito is the exact opposite. He represents the relunctant soldier who actually wanted to be a musician. He wants to be a success but can't keep control of the project, dishonoring him. Hayakawa's performance is just as powerful as Guinness'.This is a David Lean film, but it's a small intimate David Lean film meaning that in the normal world this would be a huge production but for David Lean it's just a baby. Since it's a Lean picture there are some great visuals and a storytelling style that pulls you into the film.So when I said that Bridge on the River Kwai is a war film without a war with a war I meant that these men are sitting out the war on the outside of the jungle, yet there is an ego vs. ego war going on in that small prison camp in the jungle.
Super Reviewer
½ January 25, 2007
considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time, this multiple academy award winner lives up to its hype. the best part as with all david lean films was the locations, the shots he got in the jungle scenery filled me with awe. the cinematography was also great and obi wan kenobi gave a stubborn and great performance. this is probably one of the top three or four war films of all time.
Super Reviewer
July 2, 2006
Colonel Saito: Do you know what will happen to me if the bridge is not built on time?
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.
Super Reviewer
½ July 8, 2007
Anthologic, mythical, epic war film directed with the grand-scale, flawless eye of David Lean. magnificent photography, cast, screenplay, soundtrack. extraordinary ending.
Super Reviewer
October 14, 2007
A bonafide classic. Guinness and Holden anchor a great, great story.
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