The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)













"The Bridge on the River Kwai" gives us a different look at World War II. Most films about this crucial war are focused somewhere in Europe: the storming of Normandy, France, even the Holocaust is a very common subject to make films about. But not very many movies come to mind when referring to eastern Asian World War II history. Japan has movies made about the time period because of Pearl Harbor but "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is set in the tropical jungle of Thailand.
British troops have been commanded to surrender, they lie in the authority of their officer, Colonel Nicholson. This man is by the book, he's a proud British soldier who won't take any deviation from the rules. Laws are what makes civilizations he states. If there are no laws in the camp they are taken to, he will bring them in to civilize the camp. It becomes somewhat of an obsession with him. He's going to do things by the book or not at all. He has such a sense of pride in the rules and his men that he's willing to undergo a number of unpleasantries just to get his way—which he does.
"River Kwai" is set in 1943, right in the thick of things. Colonel Saito is the detestable man who runs the camp that the prisoners of war are brought to. He orders them to build a bridge across the river Kwai by May 12th or there will be punishment. He also commands that officers work alongside their men which, Nicholson is quick to point out, is against the Geneva code. Saito doesn't care about the rules and locks Nicholson up for refusing to work. The men are in chaos without their officers and eventually Saito has to consider releasing Nicholson.
The pride and British spirit continues to build and grow inside of Nicholson until it comes to a point when it almost becomes a mania.
The director, David Lean, seems to like this sort of character—the hero with a flaw. Look at the life of Lawrence which is exemplified in "Lawrence of Arabia" and the title character of "Doctor Zhivago"—they all have some sort of shortcoming.
There is a typical difference in the men of the British army and the only American in the film, Shears. He is more selfish and self-centered than the British, but he's able to see the bigger picture and cut through all the tradition and fluffy rituals. He's no-nonsense and in it for himself. That's how he looks on the outside. He has a softer side but that it rarely seen.
Sir Alec Guinness is always so comfortable in front of the camera. He oozes confidence and poise as Colonel Nicholson. He's steadfast and a little dangerous—a warrior poet.
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is a monumental classic, it shows how far we have come in film and also how some movies can never be recreated. I really like how Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman handle the screenplay. It's revealing but in a very atypical way. It doesn't lead the viewer here and there but lets the information come naturally after the course of minutes and conversations.
A great movie.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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