This is a World War II movie that I hadn’t heard of, although the background of it is certainly familiar. It’s about the British prisoners of war who were forced by their Japanese captors to build a railroad through the jungles of Thailand. Yep, it’s THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, although that was a fictionalized version of the historical situation and TO END ALL WARS is based on a memoir by Ernest Gordon, who was actually one of those prisoners. And even though it covers some of the same ground, it’s also an excellent movie in its own right.
Not surprisingly given the subject matter, this is a pretty grim and harrowing movie, and kind of tough to watch at times as the prisoners are subjected to all sorts of torture and general mistreatment at the hands of the Japanese. Robert Carlyle plays one of the officers who thinks it’s his duty to lead an escape, Kiefer Sutherland is an American merchant marine who got swept up with the British when Shanghai fell, and a Scottish actor I’d never heard of, Cieran McMenamin, plays the young Ernest Gordon, who is indeed pretty earnest. There are two main Japanese actors, one who plays the brutal sergeant of the guard who seems to be tormented by secrets of his own, and a young translator who befriends the prisoners.
The photography and the scenery are beautiful, and that provides a pretty striking contrast to the ugliness going on in much of the film. This is one of those movies about the triumph of the human spirit, and it has a lot to triumph over in this one. But in the end it does, and the film concludes with some touching footage of a reunion between the real Ernest Gordon and the Japanese translator fifty years after the war. TO END ALL WARS is a fine film. I wouldn’t say that you’ll have a good time watching it, but you might well wind up being moved by it.
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