Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day Fifty: The Bridge on the River Kwai

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #70
Year: 1957
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.


  1. I prefer On the Waterfront but Bridge to the River Kwai is a fantastic movie.
    I think it's more of a deserving top spot than, say, Pulp Fiction or Seven Samurai.
    I love Tarantino and ADORE Kurisowa but I don't find either of those films to be their absolute best (that belongs to Ikiru and the Kill Bills respectively)
    Btw, I know I joined a little late but you haven't done Pulp Fiction yet and let me tell you. I hate that movie.
    I've sat through it four times and I still don't understand why people think it's so good. I gave it a 6/10. I love the writing/ dialogue but it has NO STORY. When you connect all the disjointed pieces together it feels more like a "day in the life of" piece than a Tarantino epic.
    Sorry for ranting about PF but I recently watched it a fourth time and I'm so sick of it.
    Bridge is a great movie. I get goosebumps everytime I see that humongous train wreck at the end (btw there are no special effects, that train wreck/ explosion actually occurred on set... like they set it up and just filmed... craziness...)

  2. I'm a huge Inglourious Basterds fan but not a huge QT fan in general. I don't hate Pulp Fiction quite like you do, but I do think it's pretty wildly overrated. I basically never watch it by choice.

  3. Brad, one last thing. We are fifty days in and you have yet to tackle a single Akira Kurisowa epic... you've got 5 to deal with. Have you seen any of them yet?
    Kurisowa is probably my favorite director (yet none of his movies are in my top 3...)

  4. You don't follow me on Twitter apparently. I'm doing a Kurosawa Week. All five of his movies on the list from Monday to Friday in a couple of weeks here.

  5. Oh god. I'm super excited. Like if you don't love all of them I will kill you... not really though... but seriously. They are so... goddamn amazing.
    Ikiru is my favorite, but Rashomon comes at a close second, after Rahomon is one that's not on the 250 but well worth checking out. It's called Throne of Blood... and it's his version of Macbeth... It pretty much defines what the word "epic" means.

  6. Haha, I haven't actually seen any of them yet, so I'll reserve all judgment until I actually do. I'll try not to let you down though. :D

  7. I can't seem to find you on twitter...


    There you have it. For you and for posterity.

  9. Thank you very much. And I love Memento. Seriously, that was my second Nolan movie and I had never seen a concept in a movie taken so literally and executed so perfectly.
    Alright it's like 1230 over here and I just had a Godfather day so I'm going to bed but I'm really happy that I've met someone else who actually had the balls to do this.
    All of my friends thought I was insane when I did it XD