To End All Wars

on September 14, 2001 by Ed Scheid
"To End All Wars" is the true story of the POWs forced under brutal conditions during World War II to build a railroad through the Asian jungle. These events were fictionalized in "The Bridge on the River Kwai." The screenplay, based on the book by Ernest Gordon, one of this film's central characters, takes this WWII prison film into an unusual direction.

Studying to be a teacher, Ernest Gordon (Ciaran McMenamin) enlists into a Scottish regiment upon the outbreak of the Second World War. After Singapore falls in 1942, Gordon's regiment is captured and interred in a Japanese prison camp in Thailand. Major Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle of "Angela's Ashes") immediately dedicates himself to escaping, even though the camp is in a remote location and failed escapees are shot. An American nicknamed Yanker ("Dark City's" Kiefer Sutherland) is mainly concerned with his own self-interest. Under barbarous treatment, the POWs are forced to build a railroad through the Thailand-Burma jungle. The men are continually threatened by starvation and disease, and the camp hospital becomes known as the "death house."

Dusty Miller (Mark Strong), a British prisoner, helps Gordon survive the camp. While Campbell tries to enlist more prisoners in his escape attempt, Gordon establishes an informal college. Learning about Plato and Shakespeare helps to raise the spirits of the men.

In the typical prison film, Campbell's escape attempt would make him the hero. In "To End All Wars," Campbell becomes a dangerous threat to his fellow prisoners. Gordon and Dusty show the real bravery as they help the others endure their captivity.

The film has some conventional aspects of the World War II genre such as an overly emphatic musical score. But director David L. Cunningham, working on a small budget, skillfully combines scenes of action and anxiety with substantial character development. The actors give forceful performances. An original aspect of the story is that it depicts how the philosophical and religious issues that Gordon and his men discuss in their prison-school affect how they confront the cruelty of their Japanese captors, leading to some stirring scenes.

Contemporary footage of the real Ernest Gordon reunited with one of his Japanese prison guards is particularly moving. Starring Ciaran McMenamin, Robert Caryle, Kiefer Sutherland and Mark Strong. Directed by David L. Cunningham. Written by Brian Godawa. Produced Jack Hafer and David L. Cunningham. A Zeitgeist release. Drama. Rated R for strong war violence and for some language. Running time: 118 min.

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