Starring: George Segal, Tom Courtenay, James Fox
Director: Bryan Forbes
Running Time: 134 mins
King Rat is an American film about a US corporal in a Malayan POW camp during the Second World War who climbs to the top of the camp hierarchy by using his charm offensive and connections, even though it may not be so honourably.
This is a fascinating film. It’s an intriguing concept, and, loosely based on the historical truth of the Changi prison in WWII, the depiction of the Lord of The Flies-esque society that takes shape without the direct rule of the Japanese prison guards is both disturbing and intriguing to watch.
Firstly, the setting is fantastic. Going into a POW film, you expect to see brutality and to be asked a lot of moral questions, however what you cannot expect is that it doesn’t come from the side of the Japanese occupiers. The fact that this entire film takes place within the context of WWII, yet with barely a mention or a glance of the Japanese prison guards, makes it extremely confusing, however that element immediately spurs interest in the characters and their microcosm.
Rather than being another attempt at The Great Escape, this film delves into more psychological, wider themes away from those of the Second World War. While it does have some references to the impact of the war on the people stuck inside the POW camp, the majority is about how their self-established hierarchy has changed their lives for the worse.
The main character, the US corporal played by George Segal, is a real man of two halves. On the outside, he’s a smooth-talking, charming guy, who you can’t expect to have any negative characteristics, however as the film unfolds, you begin to see the development of a more dictatorial, ruthless man that manages to shock in many different ways.
And that goes for everything else in the film. It’s a sort of snowball effect into the worse, and while there are a few flashpoints that take you out of the little world of Changi prison and into the WWII context, it’s a demonstration of how an anarchic society can take order, but easily fall into the control of ruthlessness.
The only problem I have with this film is that it isn’t nearly tense enough. The psychological drama needed to be a lot tougher to be truly intriguing, while the snowball effect that the story had was consistent, but was never exciting enough from the beginning, so it struggled to climb back up that mountain.
Despite that, this film gets a 7.4, because it was fascinating, original and relatively entertaining to watch, while there’s an ingenious twist that comes at the end…