James Ryan, who has parachuted into France during the Allied invasion of Europe, has just lost three brothers in combat. Government policy dictates that he should return home lest his family be deprived of its entire male offspring. A team of soldiers, led by Captain John Miller and fresh from the beaches of Normandy, is assembled to find and save Private Ryan.
(© 2008 Electronic Media Network)
World War II was a pivotal event of the 20th century and a defining moment for America and the world. It shifted the borders of the globe. It forever changed those who lived through it, and shaped generations to come. It has been called “the last great war.”
Nothing could have prepared the soldiers at Omaha Beach for the battle they are about to wage. Filled with hope and resolve, none of them knows if they will survive the small strip of beach ahead of them. As his eyes scan the Normandy coast, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) believes that getting himself and his men past the gauntlet is the greatest challenge he has faced in the war. But his most difficult task still lies ahead.
Nothing can prepare us for this movie. It’s a bullet in the head, and everybody will hold in their pee until they are ready to burst. Steven Spielberg has brought us another masterpiece. This is the best film so far. The opening battle footage is a little over twenty minutes long, and it’s some of the most violent footage ever put to film. It’s not so much the violence as much as the horror of it all. It’s just sickening. It’s cool to see blood and guts in a movie, but there’s nothing “cool” about this scene.
The beach approach in the LCVPs is absolutely real. President Eisenhower said, “If Andy Higgins hadn’t designed and built these landing craft, we never could have gone in over an open beach. I don’t know how we ever would have gotten back into Europe.” He (Higgins) had been building flat-bottomed boats for the exploration of the oil companies in the swamps of Louisiana in the late 1930s, so he was into flat-bottomed boats already. The Marines came to him in 1939 and said, “We’re going to get into the war, and we’re going to need landing craft. You’re doing the best flat-bottomed boats around. Will you enter a competition?” and he did. The Navy bureau of ships didn’t like his boat, but the Marines loved it and they insisted on it. It was a 32-foot boat — it carried a platoon of men; 30 men and two officers — a flat bottom with a steel ramp and made out of plywood, a very cheap construction and simple design. A floating cigar box is what it is. But it was a boat that could handle heavy seas; it could go through surf. It could go into a beach, drop that ramp and you’ve got 30 men charging out of that boat, going right on into the enemy position.”
Those Higgins boats may have won the war for USA, but every man who went in on one hated them. They were flat-bottomed, they did this in the waves, the gunnels were only 6 feet high, and the waves were washing over. Everybody was seasick — everybody. The decks were just awash in vomit. There was no place to sit down on these boats. They were like sardines packed into them, and everybody was sick.
One guy told a story, he said, “I’m from Omaha. I’d never been on salt water before. Everybody around me was getting sick, and I was holding on. I was proud of myself. The guy next to me took his helmet off and upchucked into the helmet, and I held on even when that happened. I wondered, Why the hell is he bothering to do that since the deck is already awash in vomit? And then he reached into his helmet and he pulled out his false teeth and popped them back into his mouth, and I lost it all when that happened.”
(Ambrose on D-Day page Copyright 1999 John Woggon, Hilton Head High at History in Film Home Page)
Here is Spielberg at his technical best, recreating D-day on Omaha Beach with no cinematic euphemisms whatsoever. The first 30 minutes are pure and horrible, from the vomiting privates in the landing craft to the final clearing out of a pillbox 100 feet up a seaside cliff.
Spielberg and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, use hand-held cameras and washed-out film stock to re-create period photography. The colors are as flat and grainy as digital photography, as though everything has been filtered through the mist of sand and water created by the explosions.
Ever wonder what an 88mm shell can do to a man’s body? Steven Spielberg must have, because he stages the image not once but many times in Saving Private Ryan. This Spielberg’s film is the most uncompromisingly ghastly WWII movie ever made, and the director deserves much praise for the authenticity of his gore. Certainly, only a filmmaker with his clout could get away with these scenes. His staging of the invasion of Europe in 1944 by the Allied Forces is dumbfounding–a literal blood bath.
But there’s nothing lyrical about this slaughter. One typical image: A newly one-armed man is seen in the background of a scene, his bloody, shattered stump exposed as he walks. He’s not staggering, but he does have a fast, wobbly pace, like the gait of an angry drunk. At last, spinning on his ankle, he finds what he’s looking for: his severed arm, which he picks up and walks off with, out of the frame and out of the film.
Tom Hanks plays Capt. Miller, the leader of a squad of U.S. Army Rangers, the predecessors to the Green Berets. Having barely survived the storming of Normandy, Miller is set on a new mission: to find one Pvt. Ryan (sensitive lummox Matt Damon), who parachuted in and hasn’t been heard from since. Miller, a soft-spoken civilian soldier, presides over a collection of Sundance wunderkinds, including Edward Burns (director of The Brothers McMullen), surprisingly likable when he isn’t directing himself. Among the other men in the squad are the Donald Pleasence-ish Tom Sizemore as Horvath, the sarge; Vin Diesel and Adam Goldberg as standard war-movie ethnic G.I.s; and Jeremy Davies (Spanking the Monkey) as a shrimpy intellectual who eventually turns killer. Barry Pepper, a junior version of Christopher Walken, steals the show as an ace sharpshooter with a religious bent.
(By Richard von Busack Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc)
The fictional Ryan’s story is derived from two real-life wartime catastrophes. One was the tragedy of the five Sullivan brothers, who were lost in the Pacific aboard the USS Juneau in 1944. But the film follows more closely the story of Fritz Niland, a G.I. pulled out of Normandy after all three of his brothers were killed in action during one week.
What better way to prove the senselessness of war than to imagine what it was like for the mothers of these families? But Spielberg, a famed collector of Norman Rockwell’s hyper-Americana paintings, has channeled a Rockwell notion of what Mrs. Ryan’s home would look like.
The farm scene sums up Saving Private Ryan: The new realism is blended with the old corn. At the very least, Saving Private Ryan will give younger viewers a lesson in what their grandfathers went through. And episode by episode, a bloody humor that seems very authentic emerges–in one sequence; the soldiers have to sort through a pile of dog tags to see if they can find Ryan’s own.
Even so, the arch-patriotic beginning and ending at a military cemetery are much too much–a twist of the bayonet. Some wept, just like we were supposed to. When confronted by Spielberg’s orchestrated guilt, it’s good to remember something said by Rear Admiral Gene LaRocque, one of the interviewees in Studs Terkel’s book “The Good War”: “I hate it when they say, ‘He gave his life for his country.’ Nobody gives their life for anything. We steal the lives of these kids. We take it away from them.”
Saving Private Ryan works as a historical recreation, but its moral simplicity shames its brilliant technology. The Germans are all lean, battle-hardened slimy killers, even the sick-comic one who begs for his life by saying “Fuck Hitler.” (There’s something to be said for the old 1950s cinematic convention of the soft-faced German boy in uniform.) Gen. George Marshall drops everything to get a boy out of combat; the boy refuses to leave, seeing a higher duty to his comrades.
(By Richard von Busack Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc)
When the actual search for “Private Ryan” happens, we’re introduced to the characters and their personalities. They’re all very distinct. Some think that casting Tom Hanks as the captain was a bad choice. He’s perfect. The rest of the cast is just as good. It features great actors that include Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, and a surprisingly good performance by actor/filmmaker, Ed Burns.
Steven Spielberg is strange in that he’ll make mindless movie blockbusters that are well-directed, but lack any substance, and then he’ll turn around and make “The Color Purple,” “Schindler’s List,” or “Saving Private Ryan.” It almost seems as though he makes some movies just to fill his pockets, and then once his pockets are filled enough, he’ll do something from the heart. Steven Spielberg truly is a genius filmmaker, and with as much acclaim as he gets now, he still seems underrated.
“How do you find decency in the hell of warfare?” asks director Steven Spielberg. “That was the paradox that first attracted me to the project.” Screenwriter Robert Rodat agrees, “The film is about decency and how patriotism ultimately has to do with one’s responsibility to family, to neighbors and to those one fights alongside in the military.”
“I’ve always been fascinated by World War II,” Hanks reveals, “and I’m perpetually searching out books and other material that depict the war as a human experience as opposed to a tactical one. That was a very vivid thing that came through in Saving Private Ryan – on the one hand, it is a grand adventure story, but it is also a very human story.”
Contributing to the heightened sense of realism, Spielberg took an almost documentarian approach to filming Saving Private Ryan. He did not do any storyboarding prior to shooting, and used hand-held cameras much of the time.
A fan at casenet.com wrote, “I have seen Saving Private Ryan three times now. I myself live in Birmingham, England (UK.) and couldn’t believe that Spielberg had filmed around the UK and Ireland. Unlike other films which have been filmed in England but set somewhere else – Private Ryan actually made you feel you were in battle scarred Normandy. There were no crappy British actors with their ridiculous accents. It was totally real from an American and universal point of view. I loved it. One thing that I liked about it was that Spielberg differentiated it from the normal stack of war movies like ‘Platoon’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ – by also making it a tale of heroism. About a bunch of guys going in as soldiers doing a job and coming out as heroes. The first half-hour showed you the horror of war better than any war movie ever made. The last hour was a thriller – it was more to do with the characters. You wanted all these men to live and save the bridge in one piece. Therefore it was an ending more to do with drama and thrills – than the horror of the actual D-Day landings. I would say it has the most thrilling action climax ever made better than any western. Armageddon’s ending sucked – Most movies have very dodgy endings. Titanic has a very good climax, which I rate with Private Ryan. Some people complained that it turned from a war movie into thriller towards the climax – but you have to remember that this is a movie which Spielberg has made for a mass audience – And speaking honestly you can never re-create the horror of war on film. Saving Private Ryan is a masterpiece.”
Producer Steven Spielberg, Ian Bruce
Director Steven Spielberg
Screenplay Robert Rodat
Photo Janusz Kaminiski
Production Designer Tom Sanders
Editor Michael Kahn
Music John Williams
Costumes Joanna Johnston
Art Director Ricky Eyres, Tom Brown, Chris Seagers, Alan Tomkins
Running Time 170 min
International Sales United International Pictures
Tom Hanks (Captain Miller)
Matt Damon (Private Ryan)
Tom Sizemore (Sergeant Horvath)
Edward Burns (Private Reiben)
Barry Pepper (Private Jackson)
Adam Goldberg (Private Mellish)
Vin Diesel (Private Caparzo)
Giovanni Ribisi (Medic Wade)
Jeremy Davies (Corporal Upham)