Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 epic war drama film directed by Steven Speilberg and written by Roger Rodat. The film features an ensemble cast of Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Batty Pepper, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Paul Giamatti, Jeremy Davis, and Matt Damon. The film follows the story of Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks. Captain Miller arrives in Normandy by the way of Omaha Beach. Following that particularly harrowing experience, Miller and the surviving members of his 2nd Ranger Battalion are ordered to retrive one Private James Francis Ryan, the last surviving of four Ryan brothers.

Saving Private Ryan is arguably the most well-known and most well-recieved war film of all time. This is a film that is executed to the numbers, not unlike an actual military operation. This is, in my opinion, Spielberg’s greatest work thus far. The man knows how to make a movie, and since everyone knows this, he is given carte blanche to create his own artistic vision, unlike some visionaries. The Omaha Beach scene, the first scene featured in the film, was an inheirently massive undertaking that only a handful of direcors would be able to handle.Luckily, Spielberg is one of those directors and he handles the scene flawlessly, working tirelessly to logistically coordinate the single greatest World War II battle scene in cinema history, thanks in large part to the excellent work of Janusz Kaminski. I am assuming that the strength of this scene alone netted Saving Private Ryan several award nominations and wins; Saving Private Ryan won Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing at the 71st Annual Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Original Screenplay.

Saving Private Ryan, on top of being near-flawless from a technical perspective, is also flawlessly acted. Hanks, Sizemore, Burns, and Pepper all give great performances here. I have never liked Vin Disel and never will, but that is neither here nor there.

The screenplay by Roger Rodat is immpecable, and there are several themes explored throughout the movie, both surface level and deeper, that make the film and the script work. Saving Private Ryan is an excellent war film, but it is also an excellent drama film.

Saving Private Ryan does things that, to my knowledge, no movie has been able to do right since. It is at the same time pro and anti-war. There have been more films made about World War II then there have been of any other American-involved war. The reason for that is, despite whatever you may believe about any war that came after it, World War II absolutely and unequivocally needed to be fought. I am very pro-troops; I have several friends who are in the service and admire their work and dedication to their country. Having said that, they are my friends and they are friends, and more importantly, family to many other people. I am one who generally believes you should try never to start fights, but if necessary, be the one to end it. We were attacked. The famous Pearl Harbor attacks launched this country into World War II. We didn’t start the fight, but we sure ended it. World War II kickstarted our domestic industries and catapaulted us out of the Great Depression and into a height of economic prosperity I am unsure we’ve been able to reach since. It cemented the U.S.A as a world superpower. Since then, all we seem to do is start fights, usually over a political/religious ideaology, not a tyrannical government, and those types of wars have no end. Ideas never go away. People can die and governments can topple, but ideologies don’t go away, and more importantly, at their most basic level, do not cause physical harm to anyone in the way the Pearl Harbor bombs did. War means that people, potentially my friends, are going off to die, and that is NEVER an OK thing. I don’t mean to say World War II didn’t need to happen. Under the circumstances, I would have signed the Declaration of War myself, but that doesn’t make it a good thing.

Saving Private Ryan understands this. The Omaha Beach scene is a truly horrific and true to life depiction of undeniably senseless carnage and blood that caused the grusome deaths of many on both sides. The film, however, is in agreement as to the war needing to be fought, that much is clear. The Nazis were evil and did evil things; America was there for the right reasons. As right as those reasons can be, anyway. With Rodat’s excellent script, Saving Private Ryan walks a delicate tightrope of being pro-WWII and anti-war-in-general. This is not the overarching theme in the film, however.

The overarching theme is perserverence despite futility. The mission to save Ryan WAS FUBAR. The mission to save James Ryan was not ordered out of tactical importance. Private James Ryan was not of critical importance to the operations in Normandy. The order came down because of emotions evoked in a high-ranking officer hundreds of miles away from the battlefield after reading Lincoln’s Bixby Letter. I understand the importance of the Sole Survivor Policy, but Ryan was MIA somewhere in extremely hostile territory, and at some point, I think the further loss of life wouldn’t be worth it. However, Miller and his team, abiet begrudgingly, follow orders.

This theme carries out all the way up until Miller’s climactic and dramatic death.

That tank isn’t going down, but Miller does not give up without a fight. Saving Private Ryan is a war film that isn’t really about war. Primarily, I think, the film is about heroism in the face of adversity. War is a bad thing, and not something anyone should endorse. Heroism, though, is an ideal that defined the entire World War II generation, and “heroic” is something I feel more and more people should aspire to be. This movie doesn’t say “Kill the evil Nazis.” This isn’t a movie about killing or being killed, and that’s why it works so well when so many other war films today. in my opinion, don’t.

Saving Private Ryan is a legendary film, and rightfully so. It is a technical masterpeice of the highest order crafted by one of the best modern directors to ever step behind the camera. Where it really shines, though, is thematically. It dismisses war without dismissing the war and tells a story about heroism and adversity instead of straightforward goood vs. evil. It is for these reasons Saving Private Ryan is an endlessly rewatchable film on both national holidays and even on days that are not national holidays.

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