Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #70
Director: David Lean
Starring: William Holden and Alec Guinness
Well, it's been fifty days since I started this blog. It doesn't feel like it's been that long, and I'm pleased to say I'm still enjoying the project every bit as much as I was at the beginning. 200 days and 200 movies remain, and hopefully I'll keep those of you currently reading with me for the duration and pick up some new faces along the way! It's nice to have this milestone coincide with my viewing of a really fantastic movie. The Bridge on the River Kwai consistently feels like the classic that it's heralded as being, and the entire film is a joy to watch. Although the setting is primarily split between a World War II Japanese POW camp and a treacherous jungle, the prevailing atmosphere isn't at all bleak. What with the Brits in the camp constantly whistling a now-famous theme and the men in the jungle trudging forward with steely resolve, there's no chance for the all-too-common war film questions of "What if we die here today?" and "What are we fighting for?" to be dwelt upon for long. That isn't to say the movie doesn't address some of the underlying issues that come with war; it just chooses to address them in a somewhat unusual way without losing any of its old school war picture cred.
Also, I'm just going to get this over with because I'm finding it particularly hard to write about this movie without using them, so beware: SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film follows two officers – well, one officer, but that reveal comes later – with very different views on how one should behave in a prisoner of war camp. Both Alec Guinness' Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson and William Holden's Commander Shears were captured by the Japanese and taken to Colonel Saito's POW camp, where he has plans to build a bridge with British and American labor. Nicholson opposes the plan at first because of the Geneva Convention's banning of officers doing hard labor in wartime prison camps. Shears opposes it because he doesn't want to help the Japanese win the war, or perhaps more accurately, because he's lazy and just wants to use his energy to figure out a way to escape. Nicholson comes around when Saito says he'll let him run the show, and he becomes obsessed with building an immaculate bridge that will withstand the test of time. Meanwhile, Shears successfully escapes and is conscripted by a special force committed to blowing up the very same bridge that he would have been working on. The two reunite in the film's fiery climax, which also serves as its conclusion. I won't come right out and say what happens even with my spoiler alert shield up because its immense power would be lost if it were to be explained. I'll simply say that it's one of my all-time favorite movie endings already, and that there couldn't have been a more perfect closing to an already great film.
The Bridge on the River Kwai marks one of those rare times in history when the Academy knew exactly what it was doing for a year. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Guinness), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography. Usually when a movie makes a giant sweep at the Oscars – like Slumdog Millionaire, to use a recent example – the film is hugely overrated and the Academy is clearly trying too hard to play kingmaker. In 1957, that was not the case. The Bridge on the River Kwai deserves all of the acclaim it gets.
The Good: The ending, which is basically only the last five minutes but starts about a half hour before then. So, so, so good.
The Bad: Nothing comes to mind. The film is very nearly flawless.
The Skinny: After one viewing I'm thinking of it as a personal top 25 candidate, so #70 is more than fair.