July 31, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

We're not here to do the decent thing! We're here to follow fucking orders! - Captain Miller (Tom Hanks)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Robert Rodat

Producers: Ian Bryce, Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn, Steven Spielberg

Studio: Dreamworks/Paramount

Major Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Edward Burns

When Saving Private Ryan came out in 1998, it was a gutshot to a lot of people who had no idea what war was truly like. The opening sequence at Omaha Beach, is, in my opinion, as realistic to a real war as you can get. Over 20 minutes long, it’s visceral, disorienting, nauseating and frightening as Hell. On the basis of that opening alone, Saving Private Ryan became one of the best war films ever made.

And the ending is rock-solid as well. Attacked by superior Nazi forces, the Americans do their damnedest to hold on in the town of Ramelle until reinforcements arrive. People who don’t deserve to die buy it. And the death of Private Mellish is one that sticks with you.

Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson were both considered for the role of Captain Miller before it went to Tom Hanks.
But does anyone remember much of what came in between?

I think the biggest flaw in Saving Private Ryan is that the bookend battle sequences are so well-done that it makes the middle of the film near forgettable. The only parts that I could recall of the top of my head before seeing it again were when they fought that German squad at the radar station and released the guy who we see again at the end of the film, and when they find the wrong James Ryan. That’s it. The rest was a blank. But at least it’s a blank because the quality of the film is so high. This is no Windtalkers.

Normally I would complain about historical license in the film. For example, the SS Division the Americans fight in Ramelle was actually nowhere near that area of France. But when it is done to make such a good film you can excuse it. Besides, this is some of the best house-to-house fighting you will see on film.

Real amputees were used for the opening sequence on Omaha Beach to portray soldiers who lost their limbs.
You can make an argument that the portrayal of the Germans is flawed in that it’s a very “good guy/bad guy” portrayal without the nuances of, say, Letters From Iwo Jima. Some people have argued that Ryan pretends to be anti-war but is anything but. I don’t buy that; you can’t watch that opening or listen to Captain Miller and think Spielberg is pimping war here.

Overall, this is one of the better war films ever made. Spielberg has a knack for movies set in this time. Not only does he have this film to his credit, but Empire of the Sun and Schindler’s List as well. I suppose you could even toss in the first and third installments of Indiana Jones. Is there a better American director for the time period? I can’t think of one.

The sound is fantastic and the cinematography is wonderful. The special effects for the battles are incredibly realistic. There really isn’t a weak spot at any point as far as how the film was made.

If you haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan yet, shame on you. Seriously. Go out right now and watch it. It’s the closest thing to being able to actually go back in time and watch D-Day unfold.

Where does it land on this list? In terms of showing the brutality of war it’s ahead of anything else here. In terms of accuracy I would have to place it behind A Bridge Too Far and Toko-Ri. In the end, I have to place it right behind A Bridge Too Far. ABTF has a high degree of realism and is more historically accurate that Ryan. But it doesn’t have anything like that Omaha Beach opening. That said, I have no doubts that Ryan will stay on this list. A weak middle can’t detract from the power of the rest of the movie.


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