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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Movie Review
WWII film explores forgiveness

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Hawai'i International Film Festival information

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Forgiveness is the supreme measure of freedom, particularly in wartime. And often, the real battle in a war is not with another nation, but within your own soul.

This profound ideology makes David L. Cunningham's filmed-in-Hawai'i drama, based on a true story, an unsettling but unflinching exposition of survival and redemption. "To End All Wars" focuses on four Allied prisoners of war who are subjected to cruel treatment by their Japanese captors during World War II; it is based on an account by Ernest Gordon, "Through the Valley of Kwai." Gordon was a Scots captain, one of an estimated 16,000 prisoners of war forced to build a railroad through the jungles of Thailand.

But the focus on four prisoners magnifies the personal struggle of right and might, and of justice and revenge.

The Gordon figure, played by Ciarán McMenamin, is herded, like his allies, into a prison camp, where the commanding officer McLean (James Cosmo) is summarily dismissed, then killed, because he dares to challenge his Japanese captors. Leaderless and adrift, Gordon finds inspiration from British POW Dusty (Mark Strong) and eventually finds solace in uniting his peers (all British, except one American) in a liberal arts college and a church without walls.

The educational and spiritual paths are bumpy and the Japanese initially disrupt the operations, until they discover the strength (emotional and physical) the studying and worship give the POWs in carrying out their railroad-building chores.

Of course, there are conflicts that shape and mold the drama.

Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland) is the lone American, a bitter and surly sort, who becomes an invalid after being tortured. Yes, he seems to be a baddie, with a surprising twist of attitude that gives him his redemption.

Clearly, there are elements of codes broken, Geneva Convention rules violated, even outright murder at the hands of the Japanese. Ito (Sakae Kimura) is a well-manicured, menacing samurai who is loyal to his mother country, right down to his demise; Takashi (Yogu Saso) is an underling with a measure of compassion.

In an unusual footnote, the real-life Gordon is seen at the conclusion of the film with the real-life Takashi Nagase, in a meeting at a memorial. The scene is the essence of the power and promise of forgiveness and peace.