The Bridge on the River Kwai

Critics Consensus

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

95%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 56

93%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 54,572
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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 cooperate with his captor as to provide a morale-boosting project for the military engineers under his command. The colonel will prove that, by building a better bridge than Saito's men could build, the British soldier is a superior being even when under the thumb of the enemy. As the bridge goes up, Nicholson becomes obsessed with completing it to perfection, eventually losing sight of the fact that it will benefit the Japanese. Meanwhile, American POW Shears (William Holden), having escaped from the camp, agrees to save himself from a court martial by leading a group of British soldiers back to the camp to destroy Nicholson's bridge. Upon his return, Shears realizes that Nicholson's mania to complete his project has driven him mad. Filmed in Ceylon, Bridge on the River Kwai won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for the legendary British filmmaker David Lean, and Best Actor for Guinness. It also won Best Screenplay for Pierre Boulle, the author of the novel on which the film was based, even though the actual writers were blacklisted writers Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, who were given their Oscars under the table. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for The Bridge on the River Kwai

All Critics (56) | Top Critics (12)

  • It is a stirring drama of World War II, in which Spiegel has had the excellent help of British director David Lean, in charge of the action, and of a fine company of international players.

    Feb 23, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • 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?

    Feb 3, 2014 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jan 23, 2013 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Sep 22, 2010 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Keith Uhlich

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • It is a whale of a story, and in the telling of it, British Director David Lean does a whale of a job.

    Feb 18, 2009 | Full Review…
  • A gripping drama, expertly put together and handled with skill in all departments.

    Feb 19, 2008 | Full Review…

    Mike Kaplan

    Variety
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Bridge on the River Kwai

  • Aug 05, 2015
    A big and excellent film with a near perfect beginning and ending. There are some incredible performances here, aided by an impeccably written cast of characters and story. The middle I found to be a bit overlong, though the payoff is massive.
    Paris S Super Reviewer
  • Jul 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.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Dec 29, 2013
    Its an examination of madness disguised as an epic. The brilliance of the film is that it manages to appease audience expectations while also subverting them. The most important takeaway from the ending isn't the building of the bridge or the attempt to destroy it . . . it's how pointless everything ultimately was.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • May 05, 2013
    A film about confusion, moral dilemma and two sides working together, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" boasts stellar performances from its leads (Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa), a memorable score and David Lean's typically sweeping direction. On top of being one of the best war films of all time, it also contains one of the best finales: a gripping, awe-inspiring combination of emotion and tension that slowly mounts towards an explosive climax and a fantastic closing line.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

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