The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Smartly acted classic film

Slow moving plot helps develop characters

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Bridge on the River Kwai

Studio: Horizon Pictures

Genre(s): Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): October 2, 1957

MPAA Rating: Not Rated


So Saito, any crumpets for tea time?

When a British troop is forced to surrender to the Japanese during World War II, Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) finds himself butting heads with the head of the camp Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) over the building a railway bridge.  When Nicholson decides to construct the bridge as a symbol of British fortitude and determination, he starts to become blind to the fact he is aiding the enemy.  As Nicholson and his men construct the bridge, the British are joined by an U. S. officer escapee named Shears (William Holden) in a mission to destroy the bridge before it can be used by the enemy.

Directed by the great David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai was based on The Bridge over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle (who was also responsible for Planet of the Apes).  It was critically acclaimed and the winner of multiple awards.  The Academy Awards gave it Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Alec Guinness), Best Writing—Adapted, Best Music—Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Sessue Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Saito.


Going through the jungle is giving me an idea…what about an invisible alien killer that is taking out a commando squad in the jungle?

Like David Lean’s other big films Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai has a big epic feel.  The movie is over fifty years old but still looks fantastic.  The new Blu-Ray transfer makes the film look (for the most part) that it could have been made yesterday.  The style of shooting and the visuals are great, and the last twenty minutes of film are full of great, tense moments.

The reason the movie still looks so fantastic is that (unlike today’s movies) has no real special effects in the sense that before computer animation, all the stuff had to be done for real.  The destruction of the bridge was such a big event, and it even had to be redone.  A camera man couldn’t get clear of the explosion and the shot had to be aborted.  The train cause damaged and the set had to be rebuilt.  The expensive scene almost was almost lost when the film was “misplaced” before it was developed…fortunately it was found and it became one of the great film endings.


It is such a nice bridge, maybe we should use it instead of walking through the water

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a slow moving movie but the slow pacing allows for the actors to really develop their characters.  While Guinness gets the most acclaim, Holden also does a nice job as Shears who knows how to con his way around and doesn’t care about the war.  Sessue Hayakawa plays the frustrated and confused Saito who constantly butts heads with Nicholson.  It creates a nice contrast and shows how war can change people since Saito and Nicholson would probably be friends or at least see eye-to-eye.

Despite the other great performances, Guinness really does steal every scene as Nicholson.  His headstrong approach creates such a blindness to the damage he is causing.  The performance is great in that at points you agree with Guinness and you see what he is trying to do.  Like other officers in the troop however, you start to separate from Guinness in his mania and like Holden and the other officers in the demolition squad, you can’t believe he is turning on his own people to protect the bridge.  At the moment when Guinness realizes what he’s done, there is almost a moment where you don’t think he’ll get any chance at redemption but a fortunate fall destroys the bridge that he died to build.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a classic.  It might be a little long, but it is a double edged sword since it allows for such great acting.  Still, despite its length, you should definitely give The Bridge on the River Kwai a chance if you haven’t seen it.  It might not be as epic as Dr. Zhivago or Lawrence of Arabia, but it still has a big feeling that is rarely found in today’s movies.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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