Movies:Movie Reviews:Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan

Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Writer(s): Robert Rodat

Cast: Tom Hanks, Dennis Farina, Matt Damon, Giovanni Ribisi, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Jeremy Davies, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns and Ted Danson

Reviewed by: Ian Evans on

Release Date(s)

Jul 24, 1998 - Wide

The plot of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan is fairly simple. After taking part in D-Day, eight soldiers are sent to find Private James Ryan and send him home to his mother, who has just found out three of her four sons have died in the war. The plot may be simple but the men’s journey through this film is anything but.

The film starts with Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) leading his company into battle during D-Day. This is not your standard Hollywood battle where the heroes gain territory quickly and death is clean and fast. The scene, roughly 25 minutes long, has no music. The only sound is the sound of guns and death. Entire platoons get wiped out before they can get out of their landing vessels. Heads, arms, and stomachs get damaged beyond repair. Soldiers drown in bloody water. Many veterans are calling this the most honest portrayal of WWII battle seen on film. Many Hollywood films have portrayed WWII as a romantic war. Colorful soldiers in clean army uniforms dancing to Glenn Miller and kissing their honeys goodbye to “Go fight Hitler.” Not in this film. Blood, guts, and brains, and the soldier opposite you is just as scared as you are.

The action and gore do not let up until the end scene. Another large battle scene occurs near the end of the film, but we feel tension throughout, never knowing what may happen, like a soldier unaware that a sniper has him in his sights.

Hanks is the star of the film by nature of his stature, but Saving Private Ryan is really an ensemble piece. Hanks brings a quiet strength to his role. He’s a decent man who led a quiet life and has found himself thousands of miles from home leading men in a war that has been thrust upon him. One of the strongest moments in the film occurs when Captain Miller reveals his background to his men. These are not professional soldiers, but they are men with a mission.

Edward Burns is very good in this film. That’s quite a compliment from someone who hated The Brothers McMullen and his other previous films. His character, Private Reiben, questions the mission, but doesn’t come across as some cardboard cynic. Again, like Miller, he’s fighting a war and not really sure why. Perhaps Burns needed to work with a director other than himself more often to improve as an actor. Hopefully, he’ll take what he’s learned from Spielberg back to his own films.

Now I agree that the Academy Awards should probably be held at Steven Spielberg’s place this year. The buzz is that the film might end up with three of the five Best Supporting Actor nominations for Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore (who gives a terrific performance as Sergeant Horvath), and Matt Damon. I just wish that Damon’s name would be replaced with that of Jeremy Davies (Corporal Upham). I’m not saying that Damon’s performance is bad. It’s very good, very solid work. However, we have to face the fact that he’s getting all the attention because of his Oscar® win and the fact that he plays the title role. Jeremy Davies plays a quiet, well-read Corporal, whose job as a translator hasn’t netted him any combat action. His pain, fear, and decency are terribly real and I think his character makes one of the largest transformations in the film.

Spielberg has made a powerful anti-war film that is able to blast war while not insulting or belittling the people who unfortunately have to fight them. His honest portrayal of battlefield conditions, made more real by the use of camera and developing techniques that give this movie a documentary feel, forces us to look at the people involved as humans and not the cigar-chomping super-humans that Hollywood has portrayed in the WWII films of the past.