Saving Private Ryan (1998) (R)

When "Saving Private Ryan" began it stated that it was rated 'R' for "intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence". Great....I just ate a sandwich.
The reverence around this film is so tangible it could be described as an extra coating of war. Keep in mind that this film brought Steven Spielberg his second directing Oscar but lost the Best Picture category to "Shakespeare in Love". I have read articles that condemn "Shakespeare in Love", because it took the statue away from "Saving". I was interested in the film because it pops up on so many lists of best movies ever made.
"Saving Private Ryan" begins with an old man tottering along a path in a war cemetery. His family stays behind him. As he walks you can see that something's bothering him. When he reaches a certain grave that isn't shown to the viewer he falls to his knees and begins to cry, then the camera focuses on his eyes and we travel back in time to June 6, 1944.
American troops are just about ready to storm the beach of Normandy and if your history serves you well you realize what you are about to get yourself into. If you don't know are about to find out.
Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is leading his men up the beach to try to overtake the Germans. As soon as the doors are open and the men start to walk out, they are gunned down. Heavy casualties in the first few seconds. They fall over board and tumble out in heaps of corpses and then the camera goes haywire.
In order to convey the confusion of what was going on, the camera leaps here and there pausing for only seconds so you can see some poor man get killed. There starts to become a pattern...if it's not Tom Hanks, he's probably going to die. What I would have liked to see (no one else would have), is have the big name actor get it right at the beginning, then you convince your audience that nothing is sacred. But the movie goes on.
The storming of the beach takes about 25 minutes and after that it's hard to immediately cut to a roomful of ladies writing condolence letters to families who have lost sons; but that's what happens. After D-day, a certain Private Ryan is killed, the camera zooms in on his back before cutting to the ladies. One woman finds out that in a family of four brother (all of whom are serving in the war), three of them have died. This fourth brother of the Ryan family, it is decided, should come home.
After leading the attack, Captain Miller gets assigned a few men to go and find this Private Ryan and bring him home. Why spend all this effort for one man? Because General Marshall has a letter written by Abraham Lincoln that is addressed to a lady who lost all five of her sons in the war. So he decides that Private Ryan should come home....I'm not sure that I completely bought his reasons, but let's move on.
The rest of the movie is trying to find Private Ryan which Captain Miller describes as "trying to find a needle in a stack of needles."
So the search is on.
Captain Miller recruits the help of Corporal Upham, a man who's never been in the actual war, he makes maps and translates. Miller needs someone who can speak both French and German and Upham is his man.
You should know that "Saving Private Ryan" is a war movie...duh. So you would think that there would be serious moments that would (hopefully) make the viewer cry. Spielberg puts all his effort into making the war scenes themselves as realistic as possible and doesn't focus on the little things that needed attention.
For example: we are supposed to believe that Upham, a man who has served in the Army for many months if not years and speaks three languages, maybe more, is too dumb to figure out what the acronym FUBAR means. Even I knew what it meant; but it becomes a running joke in the movie—how Upham can't understand what everyone's talking about.
This and other half-pokes at humor really detract from the movie itself. They should have been omitted, plain and simple. There are other ways to convey that soldier aren't just killing machines, but that they are still human.
So we travel from here to there and a conflict between sympathy/the right way and revenge is brought up. German you shoot them or just let them go? The way this question is answered and how the resolve comes around in "Saving Private Ryan" is not good. I won't say anymore except that it was heavy handed and artificial.
Tom Hanks is good in this movie as is Jeremy Davies as Upham and Edward Burns as a Private Reiben. Matt Damon, who is rarely in the movie yet seems to be remembered the most is at his low point in this role. You aren't convinced of the anguish and sorrow that he's supposedly facing.
And then there's the ending. It's corny and full of cliche. It was such a let down.
So all-in-all, what's the big deal with "Shakespeare in Love" winning?
Spielberg does a good job and it's interesting to note that both times he won Oscars for directing it was for WWII movies. Maybe he should stick to this time period.
"Saving Private Ryan" is relentless and firm in the fighting scenes and flimsy and full of overblown sentimentality during the 'tear-jerker' scenes.
It's a good attempt but Tom Hanks and Spielberg's later collaboration, the WWII miniseries "Band of Brothers" is far superior in every regard.

Score: 3 stars out of 4

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