Saving Private Ryan
The first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan just proves what film can do, it can pick up by the scruff of your neck from your comfy cinema seat and drop kick you into one of the most horrible mass slaughters of young life imaginable. This is a technical triumph for cinema and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who also was behind the camera for Schindlers List and Amistad. Here, he strips the camera of a light filters and its as if he slaps it on some GI's shoulder and tells him run up that beach of death again. To make us as uncomfortable as possible Spielberg piles on images of men being blown up, kids curling up in horror, a flame thrower exploding and burning an a dozen men alive and a guy standing tall, in a rain of bullets, looking for his severed arm.
The story begins after this. Tom Hanks is the captain of his group of men. After somehow surviving and overcoming the Omahaha beach campaign. They are sent on a publicity mission to save Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), who has had his three other brothers killed in action and is now himself missing behind enemy lines. If he rescued and brought back to his mother it is a triumph for the allies, if not, he is just another M.I.A..
Millers' (Hanks) dirty few consist of the usual suspects. There is the bible preaching sniper (Barry Pepper), the emotional medic, the hard-nut second in command (Sizemore), the wise cracking Reiben (Burns) and of course, the new, scared like a rabbit reporter, who is seeing combat for the first time.(Jeremy Davis) After the horrors of the introduction, Spielberg throws in the cliched sidekicks to give the audience something to hang on to in between the gut twisting battle scenes. As the film goes on the characters are slightly explored, with the usual home sick memories routine.
All of the actors do a fine job of their characters, but they play very much second fiddle to the camera step-ups and sound effects. Hanks knows his place in this film, and once again proves how versatile an actor he really is. Giving a great crusty performance as the captain with a real past performance that would make Lee Marvin proud.
The first twenty minutes stick with you long after the film ends, and for the rest of it you just cannot help but be afraid of what the next five minutes has in store. Simply because the first twenty minutes of SPR are not like anything I have ever seen come out of main stream Hollywood before, does not mean that it is a contender for the greatest film ever made. In fact it raises a lot of questions about Spielberg and his techniques.
As I said these twenty minutes leave the viewer knocked for six. And as a result, a viewer could not be blamed for spending the rest of the film pondering on the gruesome opening.. Wondering whether it will happen again, will it be worse the next time, what would we do if we had to face it. I bet you didn't realise it, but you were thinking it. You may disagree and call me arrogant and presumptuous, but the truth is everyone I talked to (including myself) were. They all could not get those images out of their minds, thus maybe letting the rest of the film get away with it.
Jesus, I can't believe the stand I am about to take. But as I am writing, my true deep feelings are coming to light about this film. And that is, I was disappointed with the rest of the film. The plot, story and characters stayed small, cliched and simple. This is "Big Verbal Argument Food", I know, and I can argue the other side of the coin which is, the film focused on the physical transportation of the viewer into the world war two battles. Maybe. But I must listen to my heart. And I remember clearly it said to me after watching this film "Something is wrong, something was left out, Spielberg did not do fully what he does." I cannot deny this. The humanity that Spielberg gives so wonderfully to the characters in most of his films was missing here. When he tried to do it, it seemed forced in, like the scene in the church when the guy talked about his mother. This did not do it for me. Unlike in Jaws at the dinner table scene when Dreyfuss and his son started pulling faces at each other. Now that was just magic.
But still, Saving Private Ryan has succeeded. It takes the viewer on a trip. A trip that they may want to get off of in the first ten minutes. How many of us out there think that WW2 was the coolest war ever. There are so many stories out their with the good allies battling the axis with true British grit and spirit. When some people think of WW2, they think Steve McQueen and The Great Escape, or Burtons' Where Eagles Dare. Well this film sets out to dash those fanaticise, to show it like it really was. War is a bad thing and everybody suffers. If you need a practical lesson in this statement, then watch The Big Red One and then watch Saving Private Ryan. Its' like watching Teletubbies and going straight on to Romper Stomper.
I am worn by this film. And maybe that is why, is it in the end, a fine film. I feel drained. Shaken. I cannot turn to the other characters on the screen for comfort. But maybe that was the way it was. Friendships lasted as long as bullet took to hit you in the head. Real war, is not for fun or easy viewing.
I have already stated in The Thin Red Line review that it is a better film than Saving Private Ryan, and I strongly stand by that. But, if you are looking a close to being in a war experience, then go see this film in the biggest cinema or home entertainment centre you can find. It is the sight and sound that are the stars, not the stars themselves.