Saturday, December 19, 2009

To End All Wars

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.


Bill Crider said...

When I was in grad school long ago, a famous critic named Ian Watt visited for a week and met with the members of a class I was in. What really fascinated us (or me) wasn't that he was a noted critic but that he'd been one of the prisoners who'd built the bridge on the river Kwai. Some of us got him to talk about it a little. Harrowing is the word, all right.

Brian Drake said...

James, Thanks for mentioning this. I had no idea the movie was available. It will be interesting to see Keifer Suthlernad in something other than "24", which, I think, does him a disservice as an actor. Have you seen him in "Truth or Consequences, New Mexico"? That's a tight little crime thriller that went straight to video maybe 15 years ago, and he plays a gunman who keeps trying to spin a quarter on its side out of the belief that he'll be able to read people's minds if he ever succeeds. When he finally does...

And he has a great line in that movie after the caper goes south:
"I don't know what everybody's complaining about! I thought it went pretty well!"

James Reasoner said...

I haven't seen that one, but I just put it on my Netflix list. Thanks for the tip.

I made it about halfway through the first season of "24", then gave up on it. Haven't seen it since. I think it might work on DVD, but watching it week to week it just seemed silly. I love the parody of it on THE SIMPSONS, though.