Oscar Movie Month: "The Bridge on the River Kwai" Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Rating: PG
Length: 161 minutes
Release Date: December 14, 1957
Directed by: David Lean
Genre: Adventure / Drama / War

Few movies capture the psychological effects of war like "The Bridge on the River Kwai," a gripping story that reveals to audiences that not all things are black and white. When a British colonel and his soldiers arrive at a World War II Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Burma, he courageously defies the Japanese commander by refusing to work for him. However, he eventually deludes himself into thinking that helping to build an important bridge would showcase Britain's superior ingenuity. Meanwhile, a small group of Allied soldiers plan to destroy the bridge upon completion. Featuring an enthralling story, outstanding acting and great character development, this 1957 classic is sure to keep audiences of all ages glued to their seats.

The beginning of the film brings audiences to a lush forest in southern Burma where a Japanese POW camp is located. When a large group of British prisoners march into the camp under the direction of Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), camp commander Colonel Saito addresses them, informing them that all prisoners would be working on a bridge over the Kwai River that would become part of the Burma-Siam Railway.

However, when the time comes for the prisoners to begin their labor, Nicholson tells his officers to hold their ground. Furious, Saito strikes and threatens Nicholson. He eventually leaves the group standing in the intense heat. Nicholson is later beaten and placed in solitary confinement, and the British prisoners are sent to a punishment area. Saito becomes frantic when he realizes that the construction of the bridge is far behind schedule. When Nicholson is released from solitary confinement, he is shocked to see that laborers are slacking and sabotaging the project. In an act of pride, Nicholson decides to set plans in place to build a new, better bridge. He hopes to showcase the superiority of British ingenuity and boost the morale of his men.

Meanwhile, an American soldier named Shears, who had survived in the same POW camp by bribing officers, barely manages to escape. He survives in the jungle for some time, but he is eventually found and taken to a British hospital. There, Major Warden of the British Special Forces convinces him to help him plant explosives under the bridge to destroy it. The team must slip past the watchful eyes of Saito and the newly obsessed Nicholson if they hope to destroy this important bridge.

Although most war films portray the brutality of war through violence, loss and torture, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" takes a unique approach, examining the psychological brutality of war that corrupts even the most courageous, noble minds. The passionate labor of Colonel Nicholson, which soon grows into a blinding obsession, is a prime example. The film also explores the inevitable downfall of those who allow pride to get the best of them. The movie is loosely based on true events, but director David Lean has taken plenty of creative license to make the story fit his purposes. Lean creates a thoroughly enthralling film by weaving a constant tension into the story, which is resolved during a dramatic ending.

The cinematography is brilliant, showcasing the lush filming location while making use of sweeping visuals. The film also utilizes color, which is relatively uncommon among the films of its time. This combination leads to a film that appears strikingly modern. Despite the film's lack of action sequences, it features fast-paced storytelling that captures viewers' interest.

"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is certainly a well-executed film in its own right, but the actors add increased depth with enthralling performances. Alec Guinness is particularly impressive in the starring role of Colonel Nicholson, effectively convincing viewers of his character's courage, pride and delusions. Guinness immerses himself into the character so that viewers no longer see the actor. They see none other than a British WWII colonel. William Holden is also convincing in his role as Shears, accurately portraying the pain and emotion of the sarcastic, hopeless prisoner. Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa do not disappoint in their respective roles as Warden and Saito. This standout cast comes together to create a believable film that never once slows down in its intensity.

"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is an important film that teaches audience a valuable lesson about the realities of war. From top-notch directing to heartfelt acting performances, this film has everything it needs to live on as a classic for generations. It is also appealing to a broad range of audiences due to its well-paced plot, advanced cinematography and engaging characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5