Bridge on the River Kwai

One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, even in captivity.

A review by Mike Shea   Movie Rating: ( * * * * * )    DVD Rating: ( * * * * · )

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Bridge Over the River Kwai is one of the best classic films ever put on DVD. The depth of character, depth of story, and development of the plot more than make up for the stereotypical main character. How would you compare a movie made back in 1957 with the movies we have today? What does Bridge over the River Kwai have in common with Snatch? Only one thing, they both kick ass. You don't get the gitchy cooler-than-cool characters or the hot soundtrack, but you get a truly wonderful story and some of the best acting ever produced.

Early on in the film, Colonel Nicholson (Sessue Hayakawa) so that his officers don't have to perform manual labor, a protection of the Geneva convention states. For days, Nicholson has to endure "The Oven", where he defies death all for this single principle. By the end of the week, Saito realizes that his bridge will never be built if he doesn't release Nicholson and get him to help motivate the men to work. He releases Nicholson who is heralded a hero and carried out on the shoulders of his fanatically loyal men. Saito meanwhile sits in his small hut and cries like a baby, having sacrificed his personal reputation for the greater good of the bridge.

The interaction of Nicholson and Saito evolves throughout the entire movie, but this set of scenes is just an example of the depth and evolution of the characters. Today, we are expected to fill the seats based on the number of giant special effects a movie has or the number of hot chicks they stack on a bar, but movies like Bridge really show how characters can drive a film. Treating the audience like a bunch of sheep won't get your movie listed as one of the best of all time. Only a smart script and a smart story will do that. This movie has both.

Nearing the end of the film, Colonel Nicholson is standing on his bridge watching the sun set. Saito comes over and watches him, still dumbfounded as to how this British officer is able to spend every waking moment worrying about this bridge. Nicholson tells Saito of the thoughts he has had, understanding that his career is at an end. He tells Saito that he looks back over his life and tries understand what the sum total of his life has been. Before he can finish his words, he drops his walking stick into the river below and joins his men for a celebration. There is no doubt that after months of hard work, the sum total of his life has been this bridge. The fact that it supports the Japanese enemy is of no consequence to him. It is only later that we get him to deliver one of the most powerful lines in all cinema. "What have I done"

Right from the beginning we know what to expect from our main character, Shears (William Holden). Our first vision of him is of him bribing his way onto the sick list to avoid burying any more bodies. His smart mouth is only matched by his brains, apparently. There is only one thing that is generally weak in all 1950s classic movies. Stereotypical stars. For some reason, all stars back in the 50s were supermen. Sure they drank and jumped around with women. Sure they always disobeyed orders. But everybody knows he is the hero. Everybody knows he knows more than everyone else, that he knows how to work the system. Sure he has a bad run of luck and ends up having to go right back into the jungle after barely making it out alive, but he does so with a grin and a smartalec remark. I am not a big fan of heroes like this, I much prefer characters with a bit of a flaw. I like characters that question themselves or aren't afraid to show a little weakness once in a while. We don't get any of that with Shears, he is hard core and picture perfect, always knowing the right thing to say. Even when they tell him his best chances for survival of the air-drop in is to ignore any sort of training, he asks whether his odds are better with or without his parachute. A jokester right to the end.

I don't quite know what it is about war movies, but I am starting to see a common theme. Whenever you get a whole bunch of soldiers all packed together in some horrible situation, it is only a matter of time before a few of them dress like women and dance around to the cat-calls of their peers. I first saw this in Das Boot and now here it is again. Now I am no homophobe but I would hope that this is only something we might see German or British soldiers doing. I can't remember ever seeing John Wayne or Clint Eastwood putting coconut shells over his chest and shaking his ass at his friends. Scenes like this just generally make me a little queasy. Next thing you know there is a massage scene, and then they will all start redecorating the place. It is no wonder that we get such a powerful one word ending to this movie. "Madness"

The DVD release of Bridge Over the River Kwai is very well done. The two disc set includes the main film with a 2.35 to 1 16x9 enhanced picture and a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound remix. There are numerous extras including a documentary and a featurette. There is no director's commentary or DTS soundtrack so I can't give it a five star rating, but considering what a wonderful job they did with an older film, I definitely recommend the purchase.

Bridge over the River Kwai is one of those remarkable movies that holds up just as strong today as it did almost 50 years ago. Its true strength lies in the brilliant acting, script and story. While it has a little of the 1950s stereotype and a little bit of a homosexual undertone, it is still one of the best movies ever made. Let all the sheep go see The Mummy 2 while the rest of us can remember what real movies are like.