Title – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Director – David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia)
Cast – William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa
Plot – A group of British and American POW’s during WW2 find themselves helping the Japanese forces build a giant bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway as the fiercely loyal Colonel Nicholson (Guinness) rallies his troops to get the job done and hotheaded American Shears (Holden) looks for a way to escape the confines of his tropical hell.
“I don’t care about your bridge and I don’t care about your rules”
Review by Eddie on 23/11/2020
If there was ever a director that knew his way around a grandiose Hollywood epic, it was David Lean.
The man who gave the movie going world Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, A Passage to India and this seven time Oscar winning hit, Lean had an innate ability to be able to craft astoundingly well-planned epics into a cohesive package that were all at once entertaining, emotionally charged and full of spectacle.
These are all elements that are present in The Bridge on the River Kwai, an adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s book of the same name that combined fact and fiction as it explored the development of Japanese railway tracks and the titular bridges of its story in southern Burma during World War 2.
Clocking in at nearly three hours in length, Bridge explores a multi-faceted story-line as it follows both William Holden’s (in peak shirtless mode) well-over it captured American solider Shears and Alec Guinness’s matter of fact British Colonel Nicholson, two very different men of war, both trying to do what’s best for themselves as they battle their tasks, the elements and the camps domineering Colonel Saito (played by the Oscar nominated Sessue Hayakawa).
Accompanied by stunning work behind the camera thanks to DOP Jack Hildyard, Bridge is one of those ageless classics that time has not wearied, much like the best of Lean’s work, with a practicality and realism flowing through the veins of this film that feels lived in and vibrant to this day.
There’s also much joy to be had from the two central performances from Holden and Guinness, two well-respected icons of cinema, the two A-listers are on fine form here as two very different men with Guinness relishing the chance to bring his Geneva convention loving Nicholson to life and Holden having a blast as the self-centered but good hearted Shears and while the two share very little actual screen time together, their presence is all over the film from beginning to end.
Performances like this and technical feats the film produces ensures that even when it loses steam at times throughout its more long in the tooth second half stretch, Bridge is often an utterly captivating example of old-school film-making that can’t be reproduced in today’s computer generated landscape.
Final Say –
One of the finest WW2 movies ever produced, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a superb Hollywood epic that stands the test of time. Filled with drama, wit and thrilling feats of film-making, this is a much-talked about classic that deserves its high standing.
4 1/2 skipped paratrooper training sessions out of 5
As much as I really love this film, and think the final sequence is just spellbinding, there is a discomfort to some of the presentation.
I’d really recommend Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, one of my favourite films of all time, which is a perfect counterpart to this film. It is an unflinching portrayal of life for British soldiers in a Japanese PoW camp and has a lot of important, and daring, things to say.
Though it’s an unfair thing to say, it was so good that it made me like Kwai less – or be more attuned to issues in how it presents the world.
I have almost been meaning to check out Mr. Lawrence, thanks for the reminder!
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