During Steven Spielberg’s can’t-miss streak of successful 1990s and early 2000s films, arguably the most poignant and powerful film Spielberg made over the course of this time was 1998’s war story, “Saving Private Ryan.”
The film, known by most on reputation alone, begins with a harrowing 24-minute long battle scene of hyper-realistic violence and bloodshed on the beaches during the Invasion of Normandy in the second World War.
The ensemble film is led by a down-to-earth everyman captain played by Tom Hanks.
However, it is the supporting cast and characters of the battalion led by Tom Hanks’s portrayal of Captain John H. Miller that makes this film all the more heartbreaking and real.
Each of the characters and members of the Battalion has a backstory, and each one of them has a person at home eagerly counting down the days until they return from war.
That is where “Saving Private Ryan,” starts to sink its claws into you.
The further you watch “Saving Private Ryan,” the more invested you are in the lives of the characters and their safe navigation through the perilous grounds of a Nazi-occupied France.
This is where the film diverges from a lot of other movies that are under the broad category of “war films.”
The emotion captivates.
A lot of other war movies such as “Black Hawk Down,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Dunkirk” and “Hacksaw Ridge,” have only one or many parts of the film that are very good, but they never seem to feel like anything more than a war movie.
What I mean is that when watching a war movie there is always a dividing line between reality and the cinematic battlefield.
What we see and the characters we meet feel, and are in many instances, real. However, there is always a thin and visible veneer between what is real and what is movie magic.
Such as in “Hacksaw Ridge,” there were religious motifs in the film that kept it grounded as a clearly Hollywood driven project. Even though the feats shown in the film were completely real and conscientious objector Desmond T. Doss was as big, and likely bigger, of a hero as what we saw, there were still many lacking parts of the film.
For me, “Hacksaw Ridge,” lacked an authentic relationship between characters. Yes, there was a complex power dynamic between Doss and his family and initially the men he served with, but all of it feels quite evidently scripted and re-imagined.
“Saving Private Ryan,” however, doesn’t have that same manufactured feel.
Instead, “Saving Private Ryan,” immediately douses flames on the idea of the glory of war with that introductory battle scene I talked about earlier.
Twenty-four minutes of accurate battlefield gore and destruction. The scene is sobering.
However, that also isn’t the entire film.
In fact, most of “Saving Private Ryan,” or at least most of what is memorable about the film, is found in the conversations and humanity shown as the soldiers in Captain Miller’s Battalion march through the hell-scape of war on a mission that may be a wild goose-chase.
The story endears the characters to you not only as noble soldiers fighting the good fight against the Nazis, but also as ordinary men trying to make it in the world while the very ground they walk upon is littered with the bodies of their brothers.
“Saving Private Ryan,” doesn’t need to remind you of the carnage or its implications in the same philosophical way that “Apocalypse Now” does. Nor does it need to throw gratuitous violence at us scene after scene like in “Blackhawk Down.”
All “Saving Private Ryan” has to do is place a clear portrait of realistic soldiers in war trying to survive the carnage while pursuing a nearly impossible rescue mission, and you will be in for an experience that breaks your heart and leaves an indelible impression on you.
Grant Mitchell is a senior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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