Number 42 on the top 1000 films of all time is Steven Spielberg’s 1998 epic war drama Saving Private Ryan. It’s a film that I have seen bits of, but never watched all the way through, so I thought I would give it a watch.
Private James Francis Ryan of Iowa (Matt Damon) is one of four brothers who all serve in the U.S Army during the Second World War. When all three of his brothers are killed and Private Ryan is Missing in Action, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and seven other men are then assigned to find Private Ryan and to bring him home.
This film has received critical acclaim for its realistic and unrelenting portrayl of war. I argue that this acclaim is very well earnt. The first half hour of the film depicting the 1944 Omaha Beach assault was intense, brutal and chaotic. It was confusing and difficult to tell which character was which. Whilst this might be a criticism for another film, I really liked it in Saving Private Ryan, as I imagine this is what war is really like. You don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know who’s shooting at you and people are being killed around you. On a similar note, I also really like how the Omaha Beach Assault was coloured. Everything was very muted and drab, except for splashes of red, which acted as a great contrast to the desaturated colouring scheme.
Another thing that the film did well was its portrayal of loyalty and camaraderie that soldiers share. Corporal Timothy Upham (Jeremy Davis), a newcomer to the group, is looked upon with suspicion and is subject to taunting and hazing from the other members, before being slowly accepted. However, the soldiers’ loyalty to each other is best depicted after Captain Miller lets a German soldier, who was responsible for the death of Private Wade (Giovanni Ribisi,) go free. This angers Captain Miller’s men so much that one of them threatens to desert. This was one of the best parts of the film, as it depicted the love that each man has for each other and how much a death of any of their comrades can affect them. Another great example of the men’s loyalty to each other is within the battle scene at the film’s conclusion Captain Miller is shot by the German soldier he previously freed; Corporal Upham, who hitherto has been frozen in terror, leaves his hiding place and kills the German soldier.
The acting all around was also very impressive. It was believable and convincing. One of the standout examples was when the squad were taking rest in a church and Private Wade talks about how when he was a child he would pretend to be asleep when his mother came home from work and tried to talk to him. This scene was great, not just because of Giovanni Ribisci’s acting, but also because of how the film engages with the themes of family and home.
One thing that did annoy me about the film was how relatively easy the soldiers found Private Ryan. Granted two of their number did die in the progress, but I still felt that they found him too early into the film. I felt like a good portion of the film went onto the final battle scene and I feel that this time could have been better spent with Captain Miller and his men searching for Private Ryan. Whilst the battle scene at the beginning was very good at setting the scene, I felt that the ending battle scene dragged on a little long.
This film is a powerful and realistic depiction of war. It is chaotic, hard-hitting and unrelenting. The writing and acting were very impressive, but I felt that the film did stretch a little thin in places and Private Ryan was found too quickly.