Tom Hanks plays Captain John Miller, the man in charge of finding Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). After the opening half hour, depicting the taking of the beach at Omaha, Miller is assigned to find Ryan, who is somewhere in France. Ryan's three brothers, all soldiers in the war, have been killed, and Ryan is being given a free trip home to be with his mother. Miller chooses his group carefully, including Tom Sizemore as Sergeant Horvath, Ed Burns as Private Reiben, Jeremy Davies as Corporal Upham, Vin Diesel as Private Caparzo, Adam Goldberg as Private Mellish, Barry Pepper as Private Jackson and Giovanni Ribisi as T/4 Medic Wade. The men head out in search of Private Ryan, and along the way learn more about themselves, and the horrors of war. The acting, as in most Spielberg films, is outstanding. He seems to be able to get the most out of all his actors, from leading men to the smallest of the small.
As I said before, from a filmmaking standpoint, you have to go out and see this movie. The war scenes are absolutely incredible. Never have I seen anything so lifelike. Spielberg shows us the touch as we have never seen it before. He never pulls any punches with this movie, showing us what it is like to be in a war. Just the ability to choreograph the battle scenes was amazing. And the true horror you feel watching the movie is immense. But there was a problem. The story didn't live up to the people involved.
Here you have 8 guys going out trying to find one. But there wasn't a whole lot of drama involved. I personally didn't care if they found Private Ryan or not, and when they did (and that's not ruining the story), I didn't care if he made it home. I did care about the characters themselves. It mattered to me what Captain Miller did before the war. I felt the fear Corporal Upham felt when he was put into battle. I cared about how all the characters felt. I didn't care about their mission. Since the entire basis of the movie was about finding Private Ryan, I sort of felt a little let down when they did, because it didn't really matter. What the movie was about, was showing what war really is like. Not some popcorn covered schmaltz where people take 3 minutes to die. Where the good guys all live, and the bad guys all die. This is what life was really like for the people on the front lines. I just wish that the story was a little stronger.
Saving Private Ryan showed me that war is truly hell, and that I should thank my lucky stars that we live in a time where the chances of me having to fight for my country are slim to none.
Spielberg is brilliant when he isn't trying to be deep. Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T. and Raiders are among the greatest movies ever made. He really loses it with serious films, however. The Color Purple made me so angry I had to restrain myself from standing up and screaming, "Do you all know what crap this is?" It had the potential to be a great movie but his manipulative direction blew it.
Empire of the Sun was another film with great potential that he destroyed with his inability to handle character.
Schindler's List got it more right. He almost had me until he blew it with that execrable last scene of Schindler crying and screaming, "I should have done more." It's not a bad film, but hardly the great one everyone wants to call it. First, for a film about the holocaust, the main characters are two gentiles, one a nazi. The mini-series HOLOCAUST is a far greater achievement in essaying the horrors of this time, albeit, it also is flawed.
Ryan suffers from the same manipulative direction Spielberg always falls prey to when he gets serious. First, he has no developed theme. His theme is WAR IS HELL. He proves that in the first 10 minutes and doesn't really give any other angles on it throughout the rest of the film. Second, he is so busy having the actors "tell" us what they are feeling, that we never really have a chance to feel for them. All those men who were so busy crying and throwing up, they indulged in the emotion as actors do. Yes those things happened, but the people were trying to get past them to stay alive. Their goal was to stay alive and the emotion comes out of pursuing that goal. With Spielberg's characters, he never gives you a chance to see that. He has to tell you what to feel at every moment.
Finally, Spielberg missed an important element of the men of the WWII generation. They had a Victorian conscience, they were raised with that. This means, you never show your emotions. Of course they did in this war. But those emotions had to burst out and they had to try to put them away. The scene where Tom Hanks broke down worked well. He took himself away from the men in order to deal with his feelings. But the many other crying scenes were actor indulgent, not true emotionally.
Also, the men of this war believed in this war. Hitler was truly someone to hate. He really was evil and created evil in his troops. The men fighting were afraid, but did believe in their cause. Spielberg leaves this important fact out in order to dwell on his "Ain't war awful" conscienceness. However, to be true to the time and the characters, it was essential that this element be included in some one to really make an honest film.
Some have called this the greatest war film of all time. Excuse me, but A Walk in the Sun, The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Thin Red Line, 12 O'Clock High, Attack and many other war films had theme and character development far beyond what Spielberg had done. In later films, The Deerhunter also got it very right.
Saving Private Ryan is not a bad film. It is an okay film. An average film. Hopefully, people will stop seeing the emperor's clothes that aren't there and put the picture into proper perspective.