For 21 years, Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” has been considered one of the greatest films ever made by both critics and audiences. Despite all of its awards and recognition, I still had never seen it.
“Saving Private Ryan” is an epic war film following the Invasion of Normandy during World War II. The film was released in 1998 and went on to win five Academy Awards in 1999 including Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing. Spielberg received massive acclaim and praise for “Saving Private Ryan” due to its masterful direction, realistic battle scenes, and the actors’ performances.
The film opens as an elderly veteran walks with his family through a WWII memorial. He gazes at a specific tombstone and falls to his knees crying. The camera slowly zooms in on the man’s face, and the scene beings to change. The scene slowly fades to the moments of June 6, 1944 (D-Day), where we are introduced to the film’s leading character, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks). The events that proceed remain to be some of the most graphic and realistic depictions of any war films I have seen.
Spielberg’s use of handheld cameras adds to the overwhelming chaos of the invasion as American soldiers fall under gunfire from the German defenses. Spielberg’s initial 20 minute realistic depiction of D-Day made me realize why this movie was so critically acclaimed. “Saving Private Ryan” takes a dark view of war and shows the reality of what soldiers must endure in combat.
Spielberg’s realistic approach to creating this war film made it extremely impactful and eye-opening. At the end of the battle, the camera pans over the destruction that was caused. We see the bodies of American soldiers laying on Omaha Beach as the camera focuses in on the name “Ryan” on the back of one of these dead soldiers. Back in the United States, we see the military General receive news that three of the four Ryan sons had been killed in the D-Day invasion. Quickly, the General orders for the surviving Ryan brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), to be found and brought home. The order to bring Private Ryan home sets up the remainder of the movie as Captain Miller and his troops set out on a mission to bring home Private Ryan. We are introduced and learn more about each member of the squad.
Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore) is Miller’s right-hand man throughout the film. Private Jackson (Barry Pepper) is a sharpshooter who kisses the cross around his neck every time before firing. Private Reiben (Edward Burns) and Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) are both talkative yet efficient soldiers. Private Caparzo (Vin Diesel) is a high strung rifleman, and a new member of the squad Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies), a timid and anxious translator.
As the movie progresses, the viewer gets to see more of each character as an individual. I was personally invested in Jeremy Davies’ character because I found him bringing moments of comic relief to the film. Davies also stood out to me the most because there is a clear progression of him becoming a soldier that I found very compelling. Undoubtedly, Tom Hanks blew me away with his portrayal of Captain Miller due to his exceptionally great acting skills.
But the one thing I learned from this film is that you cannot get too attached to one specific character because you never know if he will make it through each battle. With this, Spielburg quickly brings the viewer right back into the reality of war and combat as these characters you become to know abruptly get killed.
The film ultimately ends when Private Ryan returned to safety after Miller and his squad have fought the German defensive. I will not spoil anything that happens at the end because the final 30 minutes are the most action-packed and shocking moments of the film. What I can say is that Spielberg created a masterpiece of a war epic depicting the Invasion of Normandy during World War II. “Saving Private Ryan” is one of Spielberg’s most powerful films. I definitely recommend this movie to anyone who finds war films interesting.
I would also recommend it to someone who does not typically like to watch movies that depict scenes of war and death because “Saving Private Ryan,” even 20 years later is a truly eye-opening film.