A captured British colonel agrees to order his men to build a bridge
for the Japanese army, while an Allied faction plans its destruction.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Directed by David Lean
Written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson
Starring Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins,
Sessue Hayakawa, James Donald, Geoffrey Horne, André Morell
Based on the novel The Bridge over the River Kwai by Pierre Bouelle
Oscar Wins - Best Picture, Best Actor (Alec Guinness),
Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography,
Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Malcolm Arnold)
Oscar Nominations - Best Supporting Actor (Sessue Hayakawa)
The more David Lean films I watch, the more I notice an underlying theme of stubbornness. It was a dominant trait of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, and it is in full force here in the form of Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness). The Bridge on the River Kwai showcases the most dangerous of the deadly sins: Pride. It's because of pride that this film doesn't really have a hero, and ends up being one giant pissing contest for control over the fate of the war. The end result is a decent film, but one that doesn't warrant the kind of hero worship its received over the past sixty years.
Alec Guinness is in top form as the uncompromising Col. Nicholson, who spends the first half of the movie locked in a small box because he refuses to order his officers to do manual labor alongside the enlisted men. It's really his pride that causes his officers to suffer for some time, yet the audience is supposed to be on his side. Even the supposed bad guy, Col. Saito, only wants to complete his bridge on time so his superiors don't kill him. It's played like an honorable gesture, but Nicholson's decision is really just poor leadership. He then spends the rest of the movie eagerly building the bridge for the enemy and disregarding the feelings his men have towards aiding the enemy. As usual, it falls to the American, in this case Maj. Shears (William Holden), to lead the assault to destroy the bridge and save Nicholson's soul, so to speak.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a strong war movie that treats its characters as individuals in a dire situation as opposed to just soldiers in a war. Everyone is morally gray and has their own conflicting interests in the bridge. It's a fascinating character study that moves a bit slow in the middle, but features a tense climax that is worth the wait. It's rare to find a film without a true hero in the center of it. I think it makes The Bridge on the River Kwai stand out. It's another gem from David Lean, who certainly knew how to pick his projects.