The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

After my love affair with Lawrence of Arabia, I decided to check out an earlier Lean / Spiegel movie, and I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai. I had first heard about this movie when I was young and listened to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, so I expected the movie to fulfill such a mighty start as a construct in my mind. It did.

Bridge on the River Kwai now stands 52 years old, and unlike Lawrence, there are a few moments where its gray hairs show. Whether it’s Sessue Hayakawa slapping Alex Guiness in the face or the over-dramatic musical cues that sometimes start just a tad too early, there are aspects of this movie that will disappoint movie-goers who fear “the classics”. But those people tend to be close-minded anyway, so if you’re expecting a good movie, don’t let those occasions get in the way, and you will be satisfied.

The satisfaction comes with the breadth of the film. Sure it only covers a few months in time, but the movie is an excellent exploration of characters and issues whose relevancy have not expired. The A-one cast helps the film, as well.

The film stars William Holden, who does a good job as an American everyman soldier. Still, the films second star, Alec Guiness, steals the show from him with ease. Guiness is amazing as the stubborn “lawful good” British officer whose principals stand stronger than his need for food. The character is a complex one that has to represent and challenge a lot of ideologies, and Guiness never stumbles once as he plays the character with acting expertise. It’s safe to say that I am a Guiness fanboy after watching him in Lawrence of Arabia and this film. Yes, being Obi-Wan helps drastically as well.

The other actors, including Hayakawa playing a Japanese officer who clashes with Guiness, and Jack Hawkins as an eager and wide-eyed British officer, never disappoint either. It’s great to have a movie with so many interesting characters acted out in the finest manner possible, and if that’s not enough to make up for outdated gunshot make-up, then you’re not looking for the right things in films.

The story takes its time as it raises and then sits on various issues, and throughout the two and a half hours there are a few slow drudges that might bore those with limited attention spans. The ending of the film (WHICH I AM ABOUT TO SPOIL, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU WANT TO) makes its contemplative pace entirely worth it. I’m actually impressed that a film of this age could have such a climactic and exciting ending, as well as one that does what I least expected it to do, and kill off almost its entire all-star cast. But it does it quickly and without regret, and because of its boldness it is effective, and captures you. The ending definitely sticks with you after the film has finished, and that’s only one of the ways you know that The Bridge on the River Kwai is truly a classic.

This film will not disappoint anyone looking for a contemplative and deep story that pays off in the form of amazing acting talent and a fantastic ending. Though specific moments may be dated, the movie as a whole is timeless.

Final rating: 9/10

–James A. Janisse

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