Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Sorry it’s been a bit since the last update, but I’ve been busy so I haven’t sat down and watched many movies. Tonight there will be more than one update though, so there’s that!

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Saving Private Ryan (1998)
 Dir. Steven Spielberg
 Writ. Robert Rodat
 Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Jeremy Davies
 Rated R
 169 mins.
 War, Action, Drama
 IMDB Rating: 8.6

 “I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today.”

What to say about Saving Private Ryan? It’s a classic. Really if you love war movies the way I do, you can’t find one better than Saving Private Ryan. It is one of the great films of Tom Hanks’s long and wonderful acting career, and it is a Spielberg masterpiece. Such a high level film couldn’t have been bad, but very few ever suspected it would be as good as it is.

I’m one of those people who thinks the 90s were probably the last great decade of movies. I feel like the history of movies as a entertainment art form have had a few waves. Obviously the Golden Age of Cinema from the 30s to the 50s had some showstoppers, but then there was a spell in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s where there were a few great movies and a lot of ‘whatever’ films. But then from about the mid-80s to about 2001 some of the best movies ever made were churned out and it was wonderful. Some of the greatest actors of the modern era came into popularity in the late 80s and early 90s. There were some of the best stories in movie history told in this era as well.

Saving Private Ryan is one of those incredible stories.

The film follows Captain Tom Hanks (I’m sorry, I’m terrible at remembering character names in war films. I’ll look them up and edit this later) as he helps storm the beaches of Normandy and then is immediately reassigned to find a single soldier in the entire European theater. Along the way we see some incredibly horrible things, and I really think that’s what makes this movie so good. It doesn’t pull the punches, it doesn’t romanticize war, and it doesn’t focus so much on the characters that it detracts from the reality of this being World War II that they’re in. We see the ugliness of what war does to the main characters. We see the horror of what happened to the regular people trapped in the middle of this war. It shows so much realism to the point that you are left wanting it to just stop at some points.

One thing that always interests me the most is that, while the movie focuses on Captain Tom Hanks, much of the movie seems to be from the point of view of Corporal Upham (I remember that name, yay!). If you pay attention, you notice that from the moment he’s introduce, a lot more of the film focuses on his observations of the other soldiers and experiences he’s facing than it does Captain Tom Hanks. I really like this, because he is the outsider. He’s the character who isn’t meant to be there. Medic Dude is a trained army medic, Sniper Dude is a sniper with no guilt over his job, *insert title here* Horvath is the seasoned soldier who at some points quite literally stands up and starts complaining when bullets are flying around him. The other various soldiers whose names I don’t remember are all at least combat trained privates. But Corporal Upham was a translator and a typist. He mentions at one point that he hasn’t held a gun since basic and he just happens to be the unlucky kid who gets assigned to this rescue mission. Because of this, he gives us a sort of outsiders POV of what’s going on, and it’s a bit easier to relate to him than it would be to relate to Captain Tom Hanks.

Also, one thing you’ll learn about me is that I’m a much bigger fan of pyrotechnics and exploding dummies than I am of CGI, so Saving Private Ryan is one of my favorites are far as special effects. There’s something about fake blood spurting out of a noticeably ‘too stiff’ body than CGI, no matter how much BIGGER you can go with CGI. Saving Private Ryan has some of the best special effects ever. One popular anecdote is how the bodies with bits blown off in the opening sequence at the beach is actual amputees done up with special effects makeup to make it more realistic. There is a lot of artistic intricacies in this movie as well! There are camera movements that are used to make the movie more ‘harsh’, and there’s a reduced saturation to mute the colors as well that’s very interesting. One of my favorite bits of the movie artistically is this transition where it shows the soldiers walking in a field and then it has an extreme close up of some leaves and it starts raining. And the sound of the raindrops on the leaves morphs into distant gunfire. If you ever pay attention, the sounds of raindrops on flat surfaces like a leaf or a tarp does sound like the distant ‘tap’ of gunfire, so that transition is just SO beautiful. I love that.

But beyond the horrors of war, beyond the amazing acting of the main soldiers, beyond the special effects, the basic story is what makes this movie so, so special. Private James Francis Ryan makes this movie special. The basic idea alone is enough to make a person cry. This movie makes me cry three or four times every time, and starting it is the main idea: four brothers sent off to war, only one survives. The idea of a family losing three children is heartbreaking enough. The fact that someone made the decision to find the fourth and get him home safe is even more emotional. The way the soldiers on the mission to rescue him absolutely hate him for their losses along the way makes you almost start to forget how much you want him to make it home safe, but after all of that, the beautiful scene at the end makes the viewer remember that it was worth it.

My Rating: 8/10

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About J. Chelsea Williford

Student at Middle Georgia State University, writer, pop culture lover.
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