Movie #18 2023: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Yeeeeeah, so I may have seen The Fabelmans and decided that I’d not seen enough Spielberg films. It’s funny really, because I’ve actually seen about half of his filmography, from big hitters like Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List to quieter, more political films like Lincoln and Amistad. Yet it just doesn’t seem like enough, especially after seeing his latest Oscar-nominated film this year. I need to see them all, and this seemed like the best place to start since he made Saving Private Ryan as a love letter to his father who was a military man.

Set in the latter stages of the Second World War, the film begins with US troops storming the beaches of Normandy. Amongst the mass casualties at the scene lie three brothers who were caught in the crossfire. When the leaders of the US army hear of this tragedy, they insist on putting together a small group of soldiers to find the dead brothers’ last remaining sibling and bringing him home. It’s not long however until they realise that Private Ryan is stuck in German-held territory, and their simple mission becomes a lot more complicated.

I’m not one for war movies. In fact, I’ve actually seen very few. But for Steven Spielberg? I’ll watch absolutely anything. Remember when I said I loved the guy? I meant it.

Yes, after seeing The Fabelmans last week, comparing that movie to this one sounds bizarre. However, it’s nearly impossible not to see Spielberg’s handprints all over this film knowing what I know about him now. The action sequences in particular are frantic and jam-packed with emotion, but mostly I have to praise the camerawork in this one. His use of a handheld is so masterful and well-choreographed (some of which was done by Spielberg himself, rather than another cameraman), and some of the close ups seem so three dimensional that it’s hard not to take notice. Truly brilliant. 

What Spielberg and writer Robert Rodat do especially well – and much better than others making similar movies – is that they don’t at all glorify war. The opening scenes put that point across with immediate effect: the ocean is deep red with unceremoniously spilled blood, there’s horrific imagery of a soldier carrying his own dismembered limb across the battlefield. Of course, these characters are heroes, but no one involved wants you to think that any of that is glamorous, and that’s a deeply important message to send and one the director does flawlessly well. 

Having Tom Hanks lead this movie is perfect too. The fact that it’s him alone helps you to root for him without thinking twice about it. What his performance does here is show his more serious side with a poignance that is magical. Matt Damon turns out a wonderful performance on top of that, despite not appearing until very late on. 

Whilst this is not my favourite Spielberg film and it does ultimately feel too long overall since it contains such harrowing scenes with little reprieve, its technical aspects alone warrant a 4.5 star rating in my book. Maybe I’ll give other films in this genre a go after all.

Saving Private Ryan is currently available to rent for £2.49 on Amazon in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½

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