World War II Marathon: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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I move ahead to film #42 in the World War II Marathon. I will get to Underground at some point though, probably as soon as Netfllix makes it available again!

Written By: Robert Rodat
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

There are movies that I need to watch to remember, then there are movies that are etched into my brain. Saving Private Ryan is the latter, a movie that I have seen countless time, so many times that the entire film can play out in my mind’s eye if I so desire. I was the guy going to see Saving Private Ryan by himself in the theater for a second, a third and a fourth time. It’s rare that a movie grabs me in that way, all the rarer when the movie that grabs me is a non-animated Hollywood big budget film.

I guess before I get into why I love Saving Private Ryan so much I should address some of the claims of inadequacy placed against it. I’ve heard people call it jingoistic because it is a film told strictly from an American point of view. That doesn’t mean it is neglecting the other view points, rather than within its world it has decided to focus on but one facet of World War II. Another common complaint I have heard is that Saving Private Ryan is manipulative from start to finish, and maybe it is, but I don’t care. All movies are manipulative, but there are different degrees of manipulation and I never found Saving Private Ryan to be manipulative on a level that affected my experience. Finally there is the largest compliant levied against the film, that it is pro-War and full of unnecessary violence and pointless combat scenes. I disagree with that assertion to the fullest, from start to finish Saving Private Ryan is an anti-war film, but at the same time the violence is handled in a realistic fashion while the action is both realistic and thrilling.

Now that my less than strong defense is out of the way, why oh why do I love Saving Private Ryan so much? It’s hard for me to say, but I think the best way for me to phrase it would be that Saving Private Ryan is a movie that simply clicks with me. I know, I know, that’s not much of an answer, but there are times when detailed breakdowns can’t be done because a movie effects you on a more emotional level than anything else. That would be the case with myself and Saving Private Ryan, I love everything about it so much that a critical analysis almost seems pointless.

I love the cinematography and I love Spielberg’s direction. I find that he works brilliant parallels into his imagery, playing moments that happen near the beginning with similar moments near the end. He uses visual artistry to tell the tale of the movie without words, even if the words are powerful on their own. Take a look at the character of Cpl. Upham, his journey is told just as much visually as it is through anything the character says. If you want a reason that Saving Private Ryan is sternly anti-war then you need look no further than his character, a decent man like all the rest who in the end succumbs to a moment of weakness and takes a life he didn’t need to. War changed him and it certainly didn’t change him for the better.

Characters like Upham and the way they are treated and presented is another reason why I love Saving Private Ryan. You could say that Saving Private Ryan glorifies these characters, and I wouldn’t tell you that you are wrong but I also don’t think that is a bad thing. I share the belief that soldiers from every country are men and women doing a thankless job and that they are deserving of any and all glory because of what they are willing to do for their own people. What Saving Private Ryan does is to present this case while at the same time showing the flaws of these soldiers. They are men worthy of respect, honor and all of that, but they are flawed, but mostly they are human, they most decidedly aren’t action heroes.

I don’t know if I have presented what I wanted to say in the most clear cut of manners. There is plenty more I could say, but I do try and keep these things to a reasonable amount. Maybe I said it best when I said that Saving Private Ryan works for me on an emotional level above all others. I know that there are lots of other people who love Saving Private Ryan just as much as I do, I also know there are lots of other people who hate Saving Private Ryan for various reasons. My parting words are liberally taken from a favorite podcast of mine (so please keep in mind it is said in jest); I think Saving Private Ryan is an all-time great film, and while I hear what all you detractors are saying, you’re completely wrong.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “World War II Marathon: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

  1. While I would say that Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” is a better film and had better direction. That’s not to short-change “Saving Private Ryan” which I believe is Steven Spielberg’s last great film. It’s definitely a great war film.

  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, take away the first 23 minutes and you have one of the most cliche ridden war films ever. In 30 years time, it will be as anachronistic as The Longest Day is today. Visually, it is amazing, but the screenplay could have been lifted from any one of the scripts from the old TV program Combat!.
    Towards the end of your review you state that there are people who love this film and those that hate this film. You forgot another group…those who absolutely love the first 23 minutes, and then turn it off. Another point I’ve always made in regards to this film, is that Spielberg should have remade The Longest Day, minus the redundant soliloquies of the cast as to why their participation in the invasion will be the greatest moment of their lives. By concentrating on just the invasion, as the first 23 minutes of SPR do, would have made SPR the ultimate war film and probably the ultimate action film too.

  3. One of my favorite films of all-time, and probably the greatest war film as well. Everything here just works, and never stops amazing you!

  4. Anarya Andir

    I don’t know why, but I couldn’t really get myself to like this film too much. It’s probably because of the first few minutes. I’m not too good with overtly disturbing scenes and so I closed my eyes (don’t blame me, I’d get nightmares otherwise). Somehow I have very little recollection of the film, though I have to say that the acting was great and the direction was too.
    Apart from that, it didn’t really strike a chord with me. Maybe it is like you mentioned. It’s very America-centric and considering the war was never really fought on American soil, I just found it kind of out of place. But maybe that’s just me.

  5. Steven – I really liked Thin Red Line, but I prefer Ryan by a fairly large margin.

    Antares – I’m not a huge Spielberg fan either, but I get the feeling that I like him more than you do. I enjoyed the film on the whole, it wasn’t just the opening 23 minutes that did it for me. But hey, it’s cool that the movie didn’t work all that well for you, such is the world of film.

    Rok – This was my #1 war film for a long time, and it’s still near the top.

    Anarya – I have heard others voice your same reasons for not connecting with the film. It’s a favorite of mine, but I don’t expect it to work for or connect with everyone. At least you gave it a try, that’s good enough for me. 🙂

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