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Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Movie Review

Saving Private Ryan movie poster art

Written by Frank Darabont, Scott Frank & Robert Rodat
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies

My Advice: Don’t Miss It.

Finally, Spielberg is now completely exonerated for his part in bringing The Lost World to the silver screen. How does he manage to make up for such a travesty? By bringing another travesty to screen: war. Capt. Miller (Hanks) and his men (or rather what’s left of them) have survived (barely) the Normandy invasion and are given the task of locating young Private Ryan (Damon). Ryan’s three siblings have all died in combat and the top brass has decided to spare Mama Ryan further heartbreak by bringing back one son intact. Don’t let the simplicity of the idea fool you–the road to get to the end goal leads straight through hell. Literally.

[ad#longpost]Basically, the word that springs to mind when dealing with war movies is “glory.” Sure, people die left and right maybe, but they died valiantly, so that makes it okay, right? Not any more. Spielberg has thrown that idea right out the window and shown American movie audiences something they probably don’t want to (but desperately need to) see: namely, that war is hell. It’s a hackneyed comment, but you can’t know how true it is until you either experience it or view a movie like this one, which turns out to be the next worst thing. The first twenty-five minutes of the film, where the Allied forces assault Normandy–they turn out to be an assault on the audience. Soldiers vomit as the troop carriers move up toward the beach; many of them never leave the ships as they are cut to ribbons once the ramp drops; Tom Hanks pulls his helmet out of the water and puts it on only to have bloody water course down his face. These are all haunting images that left the theater with me and would not leave me alone for days afterward. The word that springs to mind is “intense”, but that is an understating insult. Spielberg has the audience right alongside the soldiers: deaf with mortar fire, submerged and drowning, and no doubt howling for their mothers.

And don’t look for your typical war movie heroes here. Hanks’ Capt. Miller is a man who sees the mission of the title as simply a way to return to his wife. When Private Carpazo (Vin Diesel) wants to help out a family whose home was destroyed by shelling, he says it’s the right thing to do. Hanks counters that they’re not there to do the right thing, they’re there to follow orders. Strong stuff, people. Spielberg’s vision is literally a nightmare, made all the more compelling by the knowledge that it happened. It’s probably the strongest movie that will come out this year, and will be deserving of every single Oscar nomination it recieves–and there will be plenty. Fine, fine filmmaking and a must see movie. Keep in mind–you probably will not enjoy this movie, up there with such amazing and destructive cathartic examples as Remains of the Day and Dead Man Walking–but it’s something to has to be experienced to be believed.

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