The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

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

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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
Rating:
PG (N/A)
Genre:
Action & Adventure , Classics , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
Columbia Pictures

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Cast

Alec Guinness
as Col. Nicholson
James Donald
as Maj. Clipton
Jack Hawkins
as Maj. Warden
Sessue Hayakawa
as Col. Saito
André Morell
as Col. Green
John Boxer
as Maj. Hughes
Percy Herbert
as Grogan
Geoffrey Horne
as Lt. Joyce
Ann Sears
as Nurse
Henry Okawa
as Capt. Kanematsu
K. Katsumoto
as Lt. Miura
Peter Williams
as Capt. Reeves
Vilaiwan Seeboonreaung
as Siamese Girl
Ngamta Suphaphongs
as Siamese Girl
Javanart Punynchoti
as Siamese Girl
Kannikar Wowklee
as Siamese Girl
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News & Interviews for The Bridge on the River Kwai

Critic Reviews for The Bridge on the River Kwai

All Critics (53) | Top Critics (11)

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.

Full Review… | February 22, 2015
New York Daily News
Top Critic

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?

Full Review… | February 3, 2014
Village Voice
Top 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.

Full Review… | January 23, 2013
The New Republic
Top 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.

Full Review… | September 21, 2010
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.

Full Review… | February 18, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | February 19, 2008
Variety
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Bridge on the River Kwai

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.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

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 Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

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.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

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