Saving Private Ryan (1998) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

An immersive and engaging war film of two halves

Steven Spielberg directs this epic 169-minute action, drama which uses World War 2 as its backdrop. Saving Private Ryan has a stellar cast which includes Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Paul Giamatti, Ted Danson, and Matt Damon, to name but a handful of the top talent in this film. Released in 1998, this 15 rated film had a budget of $70 million, but grossed nearly $500 million worldwide.

In 1944 the allied forces are landing in Normandy for an attack on the Nazi forces that have occupied Europe. The death toll is massive for both sides as WW2 is in full effect. Meanwhile the Chief of Staff, General Marshall, learns that 3 brothers from the same family have all been killed in action, their mother would be receiving 3 telegrams on the same day confirming that they had all died. He learns of a forth brother in the conflict and to alleviate some of the pain he arranges for a team from the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the 29th Infantry Division to be given a special mission to find and bring back Private James Ryan. Leading the team is Captain John H. Miller, and the mission takes them through Nazi occupied territories trying to find the 101st Airborne division that Private Ryan is attached to.

Still on the lookout for a decent cheese shop

The is a mind-blowingly epic film, the opening scene of the Normandy landing was something that stuck in my memory for years. It was an absolute assault on the senses. A testament to it is that surviving service personnel who have seen the film commented on how authentic it felt. Not just with this scene, but in truth the entire film, Spielberg gets the audience up close and involved in the action using a wealth of experience and talent. He has an amazing cast both in front and behind the camera to really create something special. Amidst the action and tension there is some real heavy drama moments as the audience adventures with the 2nd Ranger Battalion side-by-side to stay alive, and to find the last son of the Ryan household. Credit to writer Robert Rodat who wove together a fantastic story taking inspiration from the Niland brothers who fought in the war, but to just talk up Spielberg and Rodot alone would be criminal of me because every aspect of the film is rich, thanks to top class work from every department working on the film. John Williams delivers some of his finest and moving music of his career, Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski creates an immersive involvement, editing by Michael Kahn really helps to give the film a good pace – and believe me I could go on giving praise to the various players behind the camera. One thing I do want to say though is that to maintain historical accuracy, a lot of specialists and survivors were used. There are one of two minor inaccuracies in the film but for the most part of the film, what you see and hear in the film, is apparently as close to the real thing as could be achieved.

The Niland brothers who inspired the story

In front of the camera Tom Hanks delivers one of the best, if not the best, performance of his career. He strong and resilient but also harbours so much emotion that his character is easy to fall in love with. As Captain Miller must be a leader, a father, and a friend – all of which he is able to encapsulate in his performance. The production team recognised that people who fought in the conflict looked different and they wanted to achieve this with the film. They matched a lot of the cast to faces that were seen in newsreels from the conflict. Then, as part of the casting process, Spielberg has his chosen actors take part in a gruelling 10 day marine “boot camp”, which helped them get into shape, get the look of action weary people, and also get them to bond with each other. The notable exception to this was Matt Damon, who was trained separately. The idea was that there needed to be a difference in Damon’s approach to the film to the band of Rangers who would be looking for him. They needed to feel slightly alien to him and also resent Damon’s character for the journey they would go on to find him. A lot of the cast in this really left their ego at the door, there are some notably big names playing minor parts, and equally relatively unknown names putting in solid performances. Barring Hanks and Ryan, a lot of the faces just become faces in the film – much like conflict is not necessarily about individuals, moreso an collective army.

Considered one of the greatest films made, and certainly one of the best ever films to depict war, Saving Private Ryan won buckets of awards including Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects in Editing, Best Film Editing, Best Director, but controversially, and criminally it lost out on Best Picture to “Shakespeare in Love”, which in my opinion is almost criminal. I did not get to see this film in the cinema which I feel is a massive regret but even on home cinema this feels like something special. While it is not a film that I consider suitable for the entire age ranges in a family, it certainly does have a wide appeal. I am aware that some people consider this to be a pro-American, propaganda heavy film, that contains inaccuracies and similarities to other war films. However personally I think that is a little over-analytical and detracts from the enjoyment of the movie that Spielberg has put in front of us. It is a fictional film based around a real historical event, it is not a documentary and it should not be considered as the final word on authenticity.

Lest we forget – he’s lived a good life

I feel that this film is two or three movies rolled into one and can certainly be considered at least be considered a film of two halves. While you get an assault of the senses in the first half with out and out conflict and toils of war. In the second half you get more of an emotional adventure with action thrown in as a compliment. I personally enjoyed the thrill-ride of action and drama that this film brings, and while it may be heavy viewing in places, I have no hesitation in recommending this film. I feel that it is one of the greats of cinema, and as such I am happy to give this a solid 10 out of 10.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (10/10)

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