17th June 1999
Saving Private Ryan (15)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ed Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore
Steven Spielberg casts his eye toward World War II again in this critically acclaimed and very powerful movie. Saving Private Ryan is not the greatest war movie ever made (in my opinion, Apocalypse Now holds that honour), but it is certainly an excellent piece of work: intelligent, compassionate and frighteningly realistic.
You all know the story by now: a young squaddie, whose three brothers have all been killed in action, is the subject of a rescue mission in France, led by Tom Hanks (apparently, it actually was Army policy to withdraw the remaining member of a family to preserve the bloodline). The small troop go further forward, encountering various dangers and all the while questioning the morality of risking several lives to save just one.
The movie is bookended by two incredible battle scenes. These are visceral, terrifying and a massive shock to the senses. They're not quite as gory as made out to be, but the noise, sense of confusion and, yes, blood and guts combine to produce a truly accurate representation of the conditions of war. There is no heroism, no stiff upper lips - just normal, scared men trying to survive a horrific situation.
The best thing about the film (apart from the top-class acting - even Hanks, the attention to detail, the well-drawn characters) is the way it shows the violence and horror of warfare without dehumanising the Germans. Sure, it's shown from an American perspective, but the Germans are generally portrayed as the same, just on the opposite side. One scene in particular, a knife fight between two men who must kill or be killed, is heartbreaking: it is personal and intimate, almost like lovers, neither wanting to hurt the other now that they've met face to face, but knowing that they've no choice.
Saving Private Ryan is a magnificent film: technically brilliant, shocking, full of genius little touches, and incredibly moving. It forces us to see conflict for what it is: no evil villains and whiter-than-white heroes, just horrible, destructive and futile. (5)
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