A British colonel (Alec Guinness) leads his fellow POWs in constructing a bridge for their Japanese captors, unaware of the fact that allied forces, guided by a reluctant American (William Holden), have launched a covert mission to destroy it. David Lean's film zips along remarkably well considering it's nearly-three-hour running time. The film benefits from its exotic locale, Oscar-winning cinematography, and distinguished performances.
Guinness’s Col. Nicholson is a fascinating character whose stubborn resolve and blind conviction lead him precariously toward treason. Holden is good as the irreverent, self-serving American, and Sessue Hayakawa leaves an indelible impression as prison camp commander Col. Saito. Saito is first painted as a tyrant to be feared, but as Nicholson wares him down, Hayakawa gives Saito remarkable depth and vulnerability.
What I like most about Kwai is that it features a hero you start to question and a villain for whom you begin to empathize. Lean also does an incredible job building up to the climax, creating a level of suspense that even Hitchcock could admire. In addition to Guinness’s trophy and the cinematography, the film also won the Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Editing, Music, and Adapted Screenplay.