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Saving Private Ryan

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Roger Davidson

Saving Private Ryan

March 19, 1999

Steven Spielberg has proven once again what a master storyteller he is. He brings a new kind of grit and realism to the normally patriotic, flagwaving WWII movie. Yet he instills a sense of patriotism and respect for the soldiers of that war, far more than any John Wayne movie ever could. Spielberg's epic tale opens with one of the most shocking and mind-bending battle scene in film history. For 20 plus minutes, the Normandy Invasion and the taking of Omaha Beach are portrayed in acurately pulsating violence; it's not meant to be gratuitous, but is supposed to shock and wake people up to the fact about what fighting a war (even a "just" war like WWII) is really all about. Tom Hanks, (acting like he's never done in a powerful, understated performance) plays Captain Miller, who not long after the fighting at Omaha Beach is over, is given a rather tricky assignment - find a lost young airman by the name of Ryan (Matt Damon), who has already lost three of his brothers in the war and who remains the only surviving son in his family.

Hanks assembles an eight-man unit, full of young men pondering their roles in the madness, who go deep into enemy territory to find young Ryan. Along the way, they have many close encounters (no pun intended) with the enemy and even closer brushes with death. Yet they band together (even though they're on a basically useless mission intended for Army P.R. purposes) to complete the mission, find Ryan and make it back home alive. But they aren't quite prepared for the final battle awaiting them when they find Private Ryan.

Spielberg and Co. have done a brilliant job at both honoring and remembering the war veterens of WWII. A more cynical mind would say he made this to make some big bucks. Whether that's true or not, that is neither here nor there. Spielberg has a story that needs to be told with passion and the appropriate amount of machismo and male bonding. In both respects and many others too countless to mention, he succeeds. Hanks is towering and yet humble as Capt. Miller, with a capable young cast that rarely goes for the cliches that their characters call for. Jeremy Davies is the standout of the supporting ensemble as the rabbit-faced Cpl. Upham, and he should have been nominated for his breakdown scene alone. Thanks should also go to technical adviser Dale Dye, who is certainly one of the better advisers when it comes to getting realistic battle scenes down. He put the cast through it's own hell and they came out acting as if they really were soldiers.

Hyberbole aside, this surely deserves a Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg, who has brought new life to the war genre. Along with Schindler's List, this is certainly the greatest work he has ever done. And it will be remembered long after most of 1998's dreck (Godzilla, Armageddon and Patch Adams to name a few) are all but forgotten.

My Rating = Four Stars

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