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The Bridge On The River Kwai (DVD)
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The Bridge On The River Kwai (DVD)
Advantages: Triangle of officers, acting and direction
Disadvantages: Goes on a bit too long and loses some punch
I'm never sure with war films whether they're going to impress me or whether I'm just going to find them rather repetitive and dull. There are certainly a ridiculous number of films based around war, and the period immediately following World War II produced a high volume of films based on and around it. One such film, Bridge on the River Kwai, focuses on a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Thailand and how British soldiers were made to construct a bridge for a Japanese train to cross the River Kwai. It is based on true events.
The film is very long, often regarded as an epic because of this. I personally found it a little too long, and it belaboured a few of the points it made and some of the scenes dragged a little. It starts off with a company of British soldiers being led into a Japanese camp where an American soldier, Shears, is already captive. The British leader, Col. Nicholson, is a very upstanding commander who is determined to uphold the 'rules', and therefore suffers personal punishment in order to maintain the status of his fellow officers.
Contrasting to this is the Japanese commander, Col. Saito, whose main purpose is to ensure that his goal of building a bridge is fulfilled, no matter the military rules or etiquette that is broken to achieve this. The contrast between the two commanders is stark: their morals are the battle for the first half of the film. Eventually, the two sort of work together as Nicholson is disgusted with the Japanese architecture, planning and bridge building skills. Intent on showing off British construction, Nicholson instructs his men to build it properly as he starts to go mad and lose sight of the point of the conflict.
The battle of wills and methods between the two could have ended up being just another good war film, but the character of Shears sort of bridges the gap here. Escaping from the POW camp, he makes it back to British base, where he joins with Force 316, a commando unit, and they return to the camp to destroy the bridge and hopefully rescue the POWs. As Nicholson's obsession with building a good bridge increases and Shears and the commandos get closer, the tension mounts and you wonder what exactly is going to happen when they meet.
David Lean's ability to give a beautiful film is in full force here, using the Sri Lankan forests and scenery to give a strong and humid impression of war torn Thailand. The direction is strong, as is the acting, with Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins and William Holden doing very well, as does Sessue Hayakawa as Saito. The battles and contrasts between the personalities is the most interesting thing about the film, and the length of the film for me detracts from the power that the conflicts could bring. It's still an excellent film for sure, but not as great as I had thought it would be, falling short of my expectations if I'm honest.
Overall, I'd certainly recommend watching this - it certainly is one of the best war films. It depicts the conditions and how things may have worked in a POW camp, although apparently the tale it's based on featured a British commander who actually did everything in his power to STOP the bridge being built as opposed to going mad and making sure it was built properly. Still, maybe that wouldn't have made for such a good film, whereas this way it works well. The ending is certainly memorable and excellently filmed and performed. Recommended.
Summary: Impressive war film about bridge building in WWII Japanese POW camps