By Fred Harvey
The History Place
This is absolutely the best American war movie
ever made. And the timing for the making and release of this film is perfect,
coming at the end of a century which has witnessed two World Wars, and
at a time when many of those who fought in World War II are rapidly fading
Saving Private Ryan serves as a reminder
of the sacrifices of that truly great generation of Americans who, along
with our Allies, fought and defeated Hitler in Europe, thus preserving
freedom for the generations that followed.
This is also, I must admit, the most shockingly
violent film I have ever seen - and that is good. This is war. The
film's super realistic portrayal of men in battle left myself and other
members of the theater audience stunned. This is what the men saw. This
is what happened. This is why some of these guys would wake up screaming
ten or twenty years after the war. I know, my father was one of them.
And in this movie, it is the sounds of war, more
than anything else, that is so extraordinary - the whizzing and pinging
of bullets from a machine gun nest - the indescribable sound of bullets
impacting upon a human body - the screaming of wounded, confused, dying
men amid the overwhelming noise of war.
Blood spatters everywhere as flesh is torn and
parts of bodies are blown off. On the beach at Normandy a young man loses
an arm. In a state of shock, he looks around for his arm, locates it, picks
it up and simply walks away -- absolutely stunning.
I found myself wondering - is this actually a
Steven Spielberg film I am watching? He has given us other interesting
historical films such as Schindler's List and Amistad - but
those were 'Spielbergian' films which had a tendency to hit you over the
head (dramatically) to make a point, becoming at times a bit obvious -
Schindler's more so than Amistad.
He avoids that in Saving Private Ryan by being
unobtrusive, letting the action speak for itself, and often surprises us,
hallmarks of a great director. This film, in my opinion, actually elevates
Spielberg up a notch into the company of American directors such as John
Interestingly, Huston and other directors from
the World War II era, who witnessed actual combat, tended to make bloodless
dramas about the war that were sanitized according to the cultural standards
of the late 1940s and '50s. Today, the standard is money. Only a director
with Spielberg's clout could make an extreme film like this. And we are
lucky he chose to do it.
Saving Private Ryan stars Tom Hanks as a U.S.
Army captain who storms the beach at Normandy and is then assigned a special
mission, to find a mother's sole surviving son, played by Matt Damon.
But where is he? Much has gone wrong in the invasion
of Normandy including pre-invasion airborne drops that were miles off course
and Private Ryan was among those who parachuted into occupied France before
the invasion. No one knows where he is or even if he is alive. Thus begins
the adventure as Hanks sets out into enemy territory with a small group
of soldiers to find him.
As the search began I couldn't help but be reminded
of the '60s American TV series Combat, which also featured a small
group of American soldiers seemingly wandering all over occupied France.
Another comparison that came to mind was Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal
Jacket about a dysfunctional platoon in Vietnam out to search and destroy.
And I wondered, is this going to be Combat meets
Full Metal Jacket?
I truly did not want to listen to Hanks and his
guys wax philosophical about the rotten war etc. Thankfully, Spielberg
avoided this by limiting the dialogue and by letting the war, specifically
its murderous violence, be the true star of this film. Spielberg also had
the nerve to portray the Germans realistically as the killing machines
which they became, while at the same time showing us Americans who preferred
to shoot anything that moves rather than take prisoners.
This film fittingly begins and ends in the huge
American cemetery in France where row upon row of crosses (and Stars of
David) of fallen Americans form intriguing geometrical patterns, one of
the most remarkable sights in Europe. In this graveyard and others like
it in Europe are guys from Brooklyn and Boston and Iowa and Texas and many
places in America. They were average guys who put down their books and
rakes and baseballs and put on the uniform of their country, then set out
to defeat the German Army, the most powerful military force the world had
Like the crosses, Saving Private Ryan will stand
as a memorial to these 'little' men who saved the world from the unimaginable
evil of a Nazi Empire.
Rated R - For extreme violence, language.