This film is undoubtedly a classic. Anyone who has seen it will already know this, so for those of you who have not, here's the persuasive review to get you to go and buy the splendid DVD.
Epic is an overused term in film reviewing. It's short, handy, and sounds mighty good. But "The Bridge on the River Kwai" truly lives up to such a word. The $2.8m budget was an astonishing amount of money to spend on a film in 1957. The production lasted nearly a year and the physical task of constructing a real bridge in Sri Lanka was an incredible challenge. Added to that you have the remarkable performances from the actors.
Alec Guinness is the stiff, no-nonsense Colonel Nicholson. He and his men are captured by the Japanese and put to work building an essential bridge. However Nicholson is a stickler for the rules and under the Geneva Convention, he and his officers are not supposed to engage in manual labour.
His refusal to work may seem ridiculous, but his not giving in is an inspiration to his men. Furthermore, he wins that battle and decides to help the Japanese build a good bridge so that his men are kept busy and are treated well. But his determination to do the job right clouds his loyalties and by the time a covert commando squad is despatched to destroy the bridge, he has lost his objectivity.
It's a tough role to play, for Nicholson often seems wrong, but Guinness makes the man believable despite his rigid principles. He commands the screen with surprising toughness, which is met in turn by Sessue Hayakawa as the Japanese Colonel Saito.
The sheer physical elements of the film amount to an action blockbuster of the time. But director David Lean achieves a fine balance of creating complex characters from a fine cast, while keeping the pace up throughout this long movie. It all comes to fruition in the thrilling climax, which again offers a difficult choice for Colonel Nicholson and possibly Alec Guiness' finest moment.