From the beginning of the film to it's spectacular climax, Lean builds andmaintains a subtle tension that underscores the drama, which makes this acompelling, unforgettable motion picture. Lean is the Master of epic filmssuch as this, filling them with sweeping visuals while integrating them withthe emotional involvement of his characters perfectly. Lean knows what hewants and how to get it, and he takes a terrific story (and this definitelyis one) and tells it by using every bit of space--visually and audibly-- atthis disposal. And most importantly, he knows how to get the kind ofperformances from his actors to put it all across so convincingly andbelievably.
Alec Guinness deservedly received the Oscar for Best Actor for his role ofNicholson, whom he embodies from the inside out, disappearing so utterlyinto the character that the actor is forgotten, leaving nothing but the realman in his stead. It's a superlative piece of acting from one of the trulygreat actors of all times. Holden, as well, delivers an outstandingperformance as Shears, capturing that somewhat embittered, off-handedsarcasm and resignation of a man trapped by circumstances beyond hiscontrol, who nevertheless does what he can to make the most of it, whileawaiting the first opportunity for escape that affords itself. Holden'swork here is Award-worthy, as well, but was destined to forever remain inthe shadows of what is probably the definitive Guinness performance. Andwhat a rare treat, having two performances of this caliber in a singlefilm.