Tag Archives: david lean

The Bridge on the River Kwai – Review

9 Mar

World War II is a topic that no one can really stay away from, which is fair enough because there’s so much to do with it. There’s been a huge amount of movies, games, and books dedicated to certain moments throughout the war, be it real or fictional. There are some, however, that really stand out and one of them is David Lean’s 1957 war epic, The Bridge on the River Kwai. While it is a work of fiction, it’s based off of a true event, but nonetheless, it stands as one of the greatest war films ever made but also one of the most complex.

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Lt. Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) and his British troops find themselves in a bind when they end up in a Japanese labor camp commanded by Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Nicholson and Saito soon butt heads when Saito orders everyone, including the officers, to start work on constructing a bridge over the River Kwai. Nicholson soon finds himself watching over the construction and believes it to be an accomplishment for the British, but also a way of raising the morale of his men. Meanwhile, escaped American prisoner, Commander Shears (William Holden) is put in charge of a mission to destroy the bridge and the first train scheduled to cross it. As Shears’ team gets closer, it becomes clearer that Nicholson will do whatever it takes to complete and protect the bridge, even if it means betraying the Allied forces that he is a part of.

What’s so impressive and difficult about this film, especially considering the time it was made, is that there are no real good guys or bad guys. The Japanese Saito runs the camp with an iron fist and mistreats certain prisoners, but deep down he’s a man who appears weak facing the code of honor and winning the war for his country. Nicholson appears to betray his own country to protect the bridge even though he’s doing it for reasons he thinks are for the long running good of Britain and his troops, making it easy to sympathize with him. Meanwhile, Shears is a liar, lazy, and cold towards other people making him more of an anti hero, despite him being an American soldier fighting for the Allies. It’s incredibly interesting seeing these morally ambiguous characters clash throughout the movie, and it makes them seem like real people.

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While it is ultimately the actor’s job at making the characters seem real, it would all be for nothing if nothing else had the air of realism about it. This movie feels very grounded in reality and part of what makes it feel that way is how huge it is, and I’m not just talking about the close to three hour run time. What I mean is that the jungle seems vast, the bridge looks gigantic, and everything just pretty much feels epic. This makes sense since Lean would go on to do his masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia just a few years later. That’s one thing that I just couldn’t get enough of in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Lean’s sense of space translates so well to the screen, especially with this being the first film that he shot in Cinemascope.

I look at this movie like it’s a two part type of deal. The first part is pretty much just in the Japanese labor camp with Nicholson and Saito trying to outdo one another. The second part deals mostly with Shears and the other British troops making their way to the bridge to destroy it. While the second part definitely has more action, I prefer the first part more because I loved Alec Guinness’ performance and his character. The second part had a lot of meetings and walking through the jungle that made me kind of fidget during. It all still comes together really well in one of the most memorable and intense climaxes in film history.

Simply put, The Bridge on the River Kwai deserves its place in just about every film textbook you can find. It’s a triumph as a character study, an adventure story, and a war epic. While the second half seemed to drag a little bit and got a tad derivative, the movie as a whole took a lot of chances in its viewpoint of soldiers from around the world during World War II. It’s a fantastic film that deserves to be watched way more than once.

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Lawrence of Arabia – Review

11 Nov

For this review, we’re jumping back to the 1962 to take a look at a movie I’ve wanted to write about for a while, David Lean’s masterful epic Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean is a name that’s synonymous with outstanding film making with other works like Doctor ZhivagoA Brief Encounter, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. While all of these films are recognized by critics, audiences, and the Academy alike, no one can deny that his greatest work was Lawrence of Arabia, the film that still seems larger than life and has been ranked by the American Film Institute as the number 1 epic film of all time.

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T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is a misfit British lieutenant in Cairo, spending his days wishing he could do more about Prince Faisal’s (Alec Guinness) revolt against the much more technically advanced Turks. When he is assigned to meet Prince Faisal and better assess the situation, Lawrence becomes completely taken by the desert, the Arabian revolutionaries, and the stance that they are fighting for. Before long, Lawrence completely oversteps his original mission, and fights with the Arabs, helping them reclaim cities and attack trains for supplies and weapons. What may be more dangerous to Lawrence than the desert conditions and the fighting may be just how much he enjoys the battles and killing people in the process.

The scale of Lawrence of Arabia, from the story to the different shots to the larger than life characters us absolutely huge. It’s hard to summarize a movie like this because, clocking in at about 4 hours long, there is a whole lot of story and a whole lot of characters. To anyone who hasn’t had the joy of seeing this film may cringe at the thought of the movie lasting that long, but oddly enough it doesn’t really feel that long because it’s guaranteed that you’ll be so entertained by the story and entranced by the visuals of the desert. Still, by the end of the second part (yes there is an intermission), it does start to get a little tedious, but that’s only a half hour out of 4.

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I feel like you can sum up the success of Lawrence of Arabia with three names: David Lean, Freddie Young, and Maurice Jarre. Lean is the guy that holds this entire film together, which was a difficult job filming in 100 plus degrees, getting equipment transported into the desert and getting all of the actors and extras to perform the way he wants. Freddie Young, who also worked with Lean on Doctor Zhivago, films the desert with such beauty that it’s almost unreal. I read somewhere that a a fan of this movie thought that watching it on his 60 in tv made his television feel small. The desert seems so vast, and there was even a point where they used a lens, now called the “Lean Lens,” to capture Omar Sharif’s mirage like image. This lens was never used before nor since. Finally, Maurice Jarre’s score highlights the action and adventure of traversing the deserts of Arabia and battling the Turks in a way that many scores can’t with their respective movies.

It’s really no surprise that this film is considered the best epic of all time, won 7 Oscars, and has also aged better than other films of the time. The film is just so enormous and has so much adventure, action, and characters that it’s hard to get bored. The feeling of this movie is timeless, but it definitely fits a time when film making was more organic and there was no computer trickery of any sort. I feel like I harp on this point a lot, but I respect practical effects a lot more than computer generated ones. There really are that many extras in Lawrence of Arabia. They had to blow a train up with actual explosives. Even more impressive, the constructed their own rendition of the city of Aqaba. It’s film making at its most impressive.

Lawrence of Arabia truly is one of the best films ever made in terms of technical and artistic achievements. It’s the epic that other epics should look to for inspiration. While it boasts an almost unreasonably long running time, it almost never gets boring and the characters are so interesting, you really care about what happens to them. Now that I finally got to writing this, I found my thoughts all jumbled together because I could almost write an entire book on this film. It’s an essential piece of cinematic history and a timeless film that anyone in any day and age can enjoy.