The Bridge on the River Kwai
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Spectacularly produced, and the winner of seven Academy Awards® (1957), including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Alec Guinness), THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI continues to be one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of all time. Experience director David Lean’s legendary classic like never before with this 60th anniversary edition.
- Talent files for David Lean, Alec Guiness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa
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THE STORY: British POWs imprisoned in southeast Asia during WWII are forced to build a bridge that will allow the Japanese army to move soldiers & supplies thru the dense Burmese jungle via railway. Main narrative focuses on a war of wills between the determined Japanese prison camp commander (Sessue Hayakawa) and the leader of the Brit regiment (Sir Alec Guiness). Meanwhile, a lone American soldier (William Holden) who manages to escape the camp is subsequently strong-armed into leading a squad of British commandos back to the bridge in order to blow it up, in the hopes it will cripple the Japanese military's stranglehold in the region.
THOUGHTS: Well regarded as one of the best war movies ever made, BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI at its heart is a fascinating character study on the nature of war, man, and the ways & reasons one uses to maintain one's sense of identity & loyalty in the worst of situations. All the actors here are on their best game, right down to the smallest bit parts. Direction by David Lean is first rate. The memorable musical march is one of cinema's lasting audio icons. The action, while perhaps minimal by today's standards, is nonetheless perfectly suited to the film. All-in-all, an outstanding movie. (No, it doesn't rigidly recreate the real wartime events that it was based on, and that's fine. It isn't trying to. More importantly, it never states or claims to be. So what's the problem? Sheesh.) BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is not simply a great "war" movie, but a great movie - period.
THE BLU-RAY: There are many formats and versions for this splendid motion picture. My review's technical specifics concerns the 2011 release single disc Blu-ray release from Columbia. It has some crush (video noise) early on but eventually gives way to a very nice-looking picture overall. Sound is level and solid but a little on the soft side. (I had the sound cranked up pretty high throughout the film.) Extras on this particular release version include an excellent "Making of" featurette, some archival footage & interviews, an info track and more.
If there's one thing that David Lean knows how to do, it's craft an epic film and that's exactly what he did here. It did drag a little bit for me in the first hour, but it was an engrossing watch after that point. It almost goes without saying that this film is perfect from a technical standpoint, and some truly great images were captured. The acting was also just as good, especially from the three key players: Alec Guiness, Sessue Hayakawa, and William Holden. Each of them brought their A-game and turned in probably the best performances of their entire careers. One aspect of the story I really liked was the psychological battle of wills that occurs between Saito and Nicholson. Both of them were equal in rank, but also similar in their approach to their own specific situations. One might say that they were cut from the same cloth. William Holden rounds out this trio of characters by portraying a man who is drafted for a difficult task in spite of his desire to just keep on surviving, and in a cruel turn of irony, puts him at cross-purposes with Nicholson who feels like he is doing good work by building the bridge.
Although the film plays it rather close to the vest in terms of message-making, only really making its statement in the final minutes, I thought that it handled the subject of war in a rather balanced and mature way despite taking a stand against it. Nobody is turned into a villain, instead having each major character be an unwitting foil to the other in a way that suggests what is later explicitly stated (by the medic) as madness. It's not perhaps the most original of anti-war statements, but it was portrayed to extremely good effect. Also, the last 20 minutes or so is as riveting and tense as anything that has come out since. Granted, it's not perfect as there is a rather superfluous romance between Shears and his nurse but, studio-mandated love interest aside, this film stands as not only one of the best anti-war films ever made, but one of the best films period.