MRR Movie Review: Saving Private Ryan


Movie Review: "Saving Private Ryan"

-- Rating: R
Length: 169 minutes
Release Date: July 24, 1998
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Action/Drama/War
Cast: Full Cast and Crew

"Saving Private Ryan" opens with an elderly man and his family spending a quiet moment together in the shadow of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Amidst the lines of white graves, the old man falls to his knees in sadness while his children and grandchildren comfort him. The camera slowly pans into the old man's eyes, transporting the audience to a dark, gray morning in 1944 when transport ships are approaching Omaha Beach. When the troops reach shore, a vicious firefight erupts as Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) navigates his way through a hail of bullets to the Allied rendezvous point. For twenty-seven harrowing minutes, the audience is transported to the front lines on D-Day, one of the deadliest assaults in modern military history.

Thus begins "Saving Private Ryan," Steven Spielberg's brutal depiction of World War II. The film follows several soldiers led by Captain Miller as they search the French countryside for Private James Ryan, another American soldier who is being sent home due to the deaths of his three brothers in the war. One of Spielberg's best movies, "Saving Private Ryan" won several Oscars, including the award for Best Director.

Spielberg's film follows Miller and a motley assortment of troops as they search for Private Ryan. Their adventures have the feel of a set of trials, with each one testing an individual member of the group. Dissension arises among the group as each man questions whether or not Ryan deserves to be sent home. However, Miller's steadfast leadership keeps the group centered and on point as they continue the mission.

Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski add a sense of grittiness and uneasiness by shooting the film in a grainy manner. There is an overall sense of darkness throughout the movie, even in daytime scenes. By exposing the destruction and death resulting from World War II, Spielberg has created a movie that focuses on the cost of battle. There is a realistic sense of space to many of the battle scenes, largely due to their spontaneity. Spielberg did not use storyboards to plan the D-Day scenes, which allowed the actors and special effects technicians to provide a spontaneous and realistic portrayal of war.

Of course, the technical side of the film is only part of its success. The acting is top notch throughout, with every actor giving understated and nuanced performances. Hanks, as always, is solid as the mysterious Captain Miller. Vin Diesel, who would go on to become an action star, appears as Private Caparzo. His brief time onscreen is memorable, with Diesel giving arguably the best performance of his career. The film also features Matt Damon as Private Ryan. Damon portrays the young man as bewildered and guilty by his sudden turn of fortune, torn between duty to his country and his need to go home. Both Giovanni Ribisi and Adam Goldberg give great turns in their respective roles. While the technical aspects of "Saving Private Ryan" make the film a must-see, the acting turns the movie into one of the greats.

Ultimately, "Saving Private Ryan" is not just about the rescue of a young serviceman. It is also about the cost of war. Spielberg makes a conscious effort to make sure there are no heroes. The deaths of brothers, whether they are related through blood or through war, shake the foundations of these men. Hanks depicts Miller as a man who knows the war has changed him and actively hides his softer civilian side. His hand shakes as he travels through the countryside, a visual reminder of how war affects people. This movie is a far cry from the two-fisted World War II films featuring John Wayne.

Previous Spielberg films set during World War II include "Empire of the Sun," "Schindler's List," and the Indiana Jones films. In "Saving Private Ryan," he focuses on the American soldiers, giving audiences a fascinating glimpse of the everyday life of the common soldier during this period. This film paved the way for the acclaimed series "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific," both of which were produced by Spielberg and Hanks.

"Saving Private Ryan" is by far Spielberg's most brutal film. It is also one of his best and shows a darker side to his directorial persona. With a number of great performances and beautiful camera work from Kaminski, the film not only stands up as one of Spielberg's greatest achievements, it's also one of the best movies of the 1990s.

Rating 4 out of 5