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Fox Home Entertainment presents
To End All Wars (2001)

"Who is my neighbor? How many times should I forgive my brother? What does it mean to love one's enemies?"
- Ernest Gordon (Ciaran McMenamin)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: June 06, 2004

Stars: Robert Carlyle, Kiefer Sutherland
Other Stars: Ciaran McMenamin, Mark Strong, Sakae Kimura, Masayuki Yui, James Cosmo, Yugo Saso
Director: David L. Cunningham

MPAA Rating: R for strong war violence and for some language
Run Time: 01h:57m:01s
Release Date: June 15, 2004
UPC: 024543125808
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B+ B

DVD Review

As I sit writing on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, I have been considering the nature of warfare and conflict. As this day can attest, there are times when one needs to stand up for what is valuable, right, and morally good. At times, this obligation is tragically manifested in a dark necessity of warfare, through which those who seek to deprive others of freedom through subjugation can be defeated. This is real. Lives are consequently lost. Thousands of young men who gave their lives in France sixty years ago on this date attest to this. Since we live in the environment of freedom earned by their sacrifice, we can certainly recognize its value. To End All Wars does not dispute this truth, but instead offers another, equally important side to warfare: the power of forgiveness.

Based on the novel by Ernest Gordon, To End All Wars tells the true tale of a group of Allied POWs held captive by the Japanese in Thailand. Composed of soldiers from several countries, including England, Scotland, and America, these prisoners were forced to build a railroad between Thailand and Burma to aid the Japanese's eventual invasion of India. The film centers on four individuals whose decidedly different approaches to survival serve to shape the events of the story, and the lessons conveyed.

First is Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle), whose utter determination to escape, kill his captors, and maintain the tradition of his regiment make him a dangerous liability to his fellow captives. "Yanker" Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland) is an overtly capitalistic opportunist, readily looking out for his survival before others. The source material's author, Ernie Gordon (Ciaran McMenamin), is a man who enjoys the natural wonders of his own country. He is bright, but not overtly intellectual, and hopes to be a teacher someday. Dusty (Mark Strong) is a deeply spiritual man whose honed instincts and Japanese language skills make him an excellent candidate for survival, if it wasn't for his selfless nature and compassion.

This is the starting point for these characters. Through the brutal subjugation by their Japanese captors, they come to realize that the Geneva Convention will not be applied to them. The camp is isolated and minimally guarded, due to its remote location. If one escapes, chances for survival in the wilderness are slim at best. Ernie realizes this, and decides to survive through education. Taking a lesson from Dusty's Bible, he looks to turn the other cheek, and to love his enemies, who will eventually flounder in their hatred. He forms a "jungle university," held in the camp's bamboo morgue, where he teaches the men about Plato, Shakespeare, and the nature of justice, which Ian continually hopes to exact with violent retribution.

The Japanese are not depicted as mindless automatons of brutality, though their actions may, on the surface, suggest this. One of the camp's leaders, Ito (Sakae Kimura) is bound to his Bushido code, but is in the midst of great personal anguish and turmoil during an Imperial age that mixes honor and tradition with shocking violence—this oil and water grates on his being. The camp's translator, Takashi (Yugo Saso) sees the amazing spirit and courage of the men he oversees, whose will to survive is inspirational. He befriends Ernie, culminating in an emotional real-life reunion at the end of the picture.

Through grueling work, disease, death, and violence, these men, and eventually the Japanese, come to realize the power of forgiveness. Ernie, to the chagrin of Ian, is perpetuating this attitude, hoping to defeat the enemy with kindness. This is not a sappy, unreasonable thing, but a realistic measure that reveals the power of such an act. Though his friends, such as Reardon and Dusty, face bitter torture and change, his grounding helps these men endure.

Comparisons to Empire of the Sun and Bridge on the River Kwai aside, Cunningham's film does not attempt to take sides, but to do justice to this harrowing, frequently shocking true story. Usually overshadowed by the heinous crimes of the Nazis, the tragedy and death that permeated the Pacific theater tend to be overlooked. These lessons of the past are captured through a set of searing, powerful performances from Robert Carlyle, Kiefer Sutherland, Ciaran McMenamin, and Mark Strong. Sutherland is especially memorable, undergoing radical, moving character transformations. Through an earth-toned documentary style, this historical reality is brought forth with a sense of immediacy and grit. Still, the script does tend to over explain on-screen actions through voiceover, ramming the messages home. Some subtlety and less sentimentalism would have helped.

We all know war is hell. A powerful, moving film, To End All Wars exemplifies this, but goes beyond. According to Plato, war is something only the dead have seen the end of. I sincerely hope he is wrong. Heinous acts are committed by all during war. Surely there are rights and wrongs on all sides, but when a conflict is over, we must forgive. To End All Wars speaks to the power of forgiveness, through which redemption can be attained. Those who are bent on mere revenge, such as Campbell, will remain empty, even if they reach their goal. A quote from Romans, found in Dusty's Bible, seems to cut to the heart of the matter: "We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us." Let's hope for the future.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox's transfer captures the gritty visuals very well. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer exhibits a dark, muted color palette that shows some minor grain here and there. Detail is good, though some is lost on wider shots. There was some minor edge enhancement when characters are against a bright background, but overall, this is a fine image. Subtitles for the Japanese dialogue are burned in the print.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 mix is relatively front centered, but is wonderfully expansive when the need arises, capturing the film's unique sound design. Surrounds function to provide a nice sense of ambient fill, coupled with the occasional directional effect. Explosions and other low frequency effects are rare, but have good presence. Dialogue is clear, though subtitles may be needed to decipher the English from some of the actors' heavy accents.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hangman's Curse
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director David Cunningham
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The disc contains two high-quality extras. First is a feature-length commentary by director David Cunningham. His comments are informative and interesting, focusing on details of the production and explanations of how things were accomplished. He does not forget to discuss the importance of the source material.

Next is a 30-minute documentary on the making of the film. This piece delves into every aspect of the production, from source material, visual style, casting, characters, and the film's messages. Insightful interviews from the international cast is combined with some good behind-the-scenes footage.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Another under-the-radar surprise, To End All Wars is a powerful, memorable depiction of the suffering, sacrifice, and forgiveness of a group of POWs held by the Japanese during WWII. Despite a lack of subtlety, this film, coupled with the railroad that still exists in the jungles of Asia, will serve as a testament to their important story.


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