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Saving Private Ryan
1998 - R - 170 Mins.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Robert Rodat
Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel
Review by: John Ulmer
What Steven Spielberg has done with "Saving Private Ryan" is simultaneously craft an enormously successful depiction of World War II and a touching story that places a platoon of bewildered soldiers in a world of frantic pacing -- a startling world of gunfire and proceeding death. The constant movement of the shaky handheld camera acts as a first person perspective -- we are not merely viewing the movie, but participating in it. This is perhaps as close as we will ever get to realizing the unadulterated fear those soldiers must have felt as they drew nearer to the beaches of France. It is one of the greatest war films ever put on celluloid, its scope arguably larger than any other in the genre, its conflict superb.

The movie, based on the actual events surrounding the Nilan brothers during World War II, is about a group of soldiers sent to rescue Private Ryan (Matt Damon), a young man who loses three brothers in the war, and whose mother is spared the possible chance of losing her remaining son after Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his platoon are sent on a dangerous mission to find and return Private Ryan to safety.

The men who fight alongside Miller have to question the mission. What makes Private Ryan more important than any of them? They all have mothers too. But they follow orders, venturing into the battlefields of WWII France in search of Private Ryan. The most reluctant of the soldiers is Private Reiben (Edward Burns), a pessimistic everyman who feels no need to risk his own life for that of another man.

The battle scenes are ultimately what made "Saving Private Ryan" one of the highest-grossing films of the decade, and what enticed so many eager viewers into theaters. Many veterans of the war reportedly broke down in tears during one of the first sequences, the landing at Omaha Beach, which probably lasts about fifteen minutes -- at least.

However, the movie also reaches a sort of emotional height that few other war films manage to capture. This is a fascinating account of war, packed with terrifyingly realistic scenes and some of the most disturbing images you will ever see in a mainstream film, but it also has a lot to say about friendship and selfless motivations. "Earn this," Captain Miller tells Private Ryan at one point in the film.

Spielberg has proven countless times that he is capable of abandoning his famously schmaltzy style of filmmaking to record touching stories. Spielberg stated that he felt an internal desire to tackle this project, as much as he felt it was necessary to direct "Schindler's List." Both films work as a sort of documentary-style motion picture, but also contain fundamental emotional truths, which elevate them to higher ground.

Tom Hanks, as Captain Miller, is not the first actor who comes to mind when one thinks of war picture, but Hanks' position in the film works because he personifies the everyman quality of a soldier. As we too often forget, the men who fight wars are not always the Schwarzeneggers with huge muscles and a wealth of weapons and ammunition. Hanks successfully embodies the image of a simple man who is thrust into a world war and tries his best to stay alive and do so with dignity.

"Saving Private Ryan"is an amazing achievement of filmmaking, and an ode to the thousands of men who lost their lives for the campaign against Hitler's armies. If you can stomach the violence and accurate depictions of brutal warfare, "Saving Private Ryan" is one of the most moving cinematic experiences you will ever have.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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