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Saving Private Ryan (1998)

November 11, 2009

9/10 FUBARs

I still have no freakin’ clue how this lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love. What was up with that? Horseshit.

Saving Private Ryan is about a unit in WWII that are given orders to ensure the safety and return home of one James Francis Ryan after the deaths of his three brothers on the field of battle. The members of said unit also get a plane ticket stateside if they get Ryan back, so it’s a win-win for everybody.

Being that there’s a good chance this movie’s gonna be playing on TV tonight (which has become an awesome annual tradition of sorts) thought this would be as good a way as any to celebrate Veteran’s Day in style.

The funny thing about this movie is that even a eleven years after its release, whenever I talk to people about it, the conversation inevitably leads back to the same thing we were all talking about back in 1998 – the opening scene on the beaches of Normandy. Part of me is tempted to say that I’m surprised everyone is still hung up on that scene, but then again, it’s not often that a movie changes the game entirely over the course of fifteen minutes.

The reason everyone couldn’t stop talking about this opening scene is because war had never been depicted like this in movies before. No sugarcoating. No punches held. Everyone was taken for a loop at how Spielberg managed to pull off such a frighteningly convincing feat of presenting the horrors of war to his audience by placing them as close to the front lines as he possibly could without having them rush the beaches themselves. No other war movie told it like this beforehand and there really hasn’t been a war movie that’s done it better since. I’ve seen this movie a good four or five times and even though I know what’s coming, it is always a rough sit-through.

You want to see why war is hell from the comforts of your La-Z-Boy? Saving Private Ryan oughta do the trick just fine.

Granted, this is a pretty hard act to follow for the remaining two-and-a-half hours, and maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself here, but I don’t feel like the rest of this movie gets the credit it deserves.

The things I actually like most about this movie are two things that Spielberg arguably does better than anyone else out there – character development and honest storytelling. There are a lot of characters to account for but everyone has their own distinct quirks and personalities that make them stand out as individuals. They all have their own stories and getting to hear those stories, getting to see how each of them react to the situations around them – not only in the heat of battle but otherwise – is one of my favorite aspects of this script.

The cast is also made up of everyone from every movie you’ve ever seen. The unit alone is made up of Ed Burns (awesome), Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies (aka: Eugene from Eugene in Rescue Dawn), Vin Diesel (pre-car thief), Giovanni Ribisi, and, of course, Tom Hanks. What is there left to say about Tom Hanks? He’s one of the greatest actors of all-time and just an all-around standup guy. Naturally, he’s great here as the unit’s leader and once again steals the show. Guy’s come a long way since Bosom Buddies.

Paul Giamatti, Ted Danson, and Nathan Fillion all get bit roles, too. So that’s a nice little bonus. 

And not to beat a dead horse, but even after the opening scene at Normandy, the action scenes are freakin’ phenomenal. An absolutely wild and harrowing experience.

The only problem is that I feel like Spielberg has a hard time finding the right way to wrap up his movies, like the very end of Schindler’s List for example, and the same thing could be argued here. The final scene at the cemetery in Normandy along with the “Earn this!” theme might come off as sappy to some, but nonetheless, not a big complaint in light of everything else it does right.

Saving Private Ryan is just an incredibly well-made movie and redefined the face of war on the silver screen. One of those movies that I’ll to stop whatever I’m doing and just watch whenever it comes on TV.

Freakin’ Shakespeare in Love. That Joseph Fiennes is a ninny.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Branden permalink
    November 11, 2009 3:20 pm

    I saw this movie was my entire family. The opening sequences effed me up. The rest of the movie is very good.

    It’s weird that a platoon trying to find a private in WWII France. That’s the story.

    Spielberg is known for his sappy ending scenes. I believe that the modern sequences were not in the original cut. I wish that left the story with the “certain solider” dying and pan out. Done.

  2. Rosie permalink
    November 11, 2009 4:27 pm

    I know why “Shakespeare in Love” won. It had a better script than “Saving Private Ryan”. It was better written and it was not full of itself. As Hollywood producer Darryl Zanuck once stated that the backbone of any movie is the script.

    And another thing, it was a mistake on screenwriter Robert Rodat’s part to portray the old man at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan” as the title character, who had flashed back to the Normandy Beach landing. The title character was NEVER at the Normandy landing. He had jumped into France the night before with other paratroopers.

    • November 12, 2009 12:01 am

      I agree with Zanuck’s statement, but gotta disagree with you on this one. Maybe I need to give Shakespeare another watch, but the winner goes to Spielberg here, so does the script he’s working with. Although I’m with you on it being a mistake making old Ryan the main character at the beginning and end. Main flaw of the movie, other than that, still a big fan. But hey, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

  3. November 11, 2009 7:23 pm

    I’am always caught watching this film whenever it’s on. It’s one of the greatest films of all-time, and surely deserves to be known as one of the best war films to ever be filmed, as well. Nice Review!!

  4. November 12, 2009 12:51 am

    Great write-up, and yes, SPR is far superior to SiL in every single way, including script, that may be the area where it is the most superior. I saw this movie a bunch of times in the theater, and I’ve watched it many more times on DVD, SPR never loses any of its luster.

  5. November 12, 2009 7:37 am

    Rosie makes a good point about that flashback. i actually think Shakespeare in Love is great fun, just one of those movies that gets a lot of flak cos it won the oscar. i even like Ben Affleck in it.
    Saving Private Ryan is just great though – excellent point that the rest of the movie is as good as the beginning.

    its one of those films i dont think i really love – its not in my list of alltime favourites or anything – but whenever i watch it im in floods of tears the whole way through. spielberg is a master manipulator, and although he often tugs on the heartstrings in a bit of an obvious way, im always ready to give him my uh, heartstrings. or something. you get the idea.
    Saving Private Ryan.. is it as good a war movie as Operation Dumbo Drop? You know what, yes, it probably is.

    • November 12, 2009 12:18 pm

      Dumbo Drop. Moving that to the #1 spot on my Netflix queue.

  6. November 12, 2009 10:09 am

    Great review – One of my very favorite films of all time actually. Not sure about TV where you live, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find it on TV last night.

    As for Oscar, there are two reasons (and only two) that it missed Best Picture. Neither of the two have anything to do with Rosie’s argument.

    The first is that RYAN had the misfortune of competing with THE THIN RED LINE. TRL is a very different, but also very powerful war film. It’s Best Pic nomination stole more than a few votes from SPR and allowed LOVE a window of opportunity. Had TRL not been nominated, RYAN likely wins.

    The second – and less obvious – reason is Miramax. Miramax campaigned hard for LOVE. This was at the apex of The Weinsteins’ power and influence over Hollywood, and they spared no expense when it came to getting people to consider LOVE, and indeed in denouncing RYAN. More than any other Best Picture, LOVE is widely seen as the award Miramax bought.

    • November 12, 2009 12:17 pm

      Interesting, but not all that surprising either. Some shit was definitely up. And yeah, Thin Red Line’s a good one. Haven’ seen it in a long time, might be about time to revisit that.

    • November 13, 2009 10:07 am

      But The Thin Red Line is a vastly superior film. I used to really love SPR, but the more I visit it the more I sit back and admire the battle scenes and roll my eyes through the interim, because the script seems to have congealed from cliché. Tom Hanks is a teacher. Vin Diesel is Italian. There is an obligatory guy from Brooklyn. I don’t agree with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s vicious railing against what he perceived to be a championing of American superiority, but it’s certainly a love letter to the so-called Greatest Generation because a title like that comes with the constant need for ego-boosting. I do still like it a fair amount (probably give it a 3.5/5 or a high 7/10 rating), but it’s flawed. Besides, that framing device is almost sickening in how awful it is.

      By comparison, The Thin Red Line somehow managed to make poetry into a semi-realistic depiction of war. Granted, I would suspect that your average soldier does not muse over existentialist concerns, but I thought it was the most honest portrayal of WWII soldiers as actual, flesh-and-blood humans with fears. Compare the overall mission of SPR, wherein a group of men are essentially sent to their deaths just to rescue one person, and any grumblings over how absurd this is are quashed with lines about doing our duty (i.e. the necessity of following orders), to TRL. In that film, when a colonel orders his men into a deathtrap, a subordinate refuses to send the men. He will not follow an order that will lead to a slaughter and assured defeat. The Thin Red Line is poetry, but in this respect it has a refreshingly honest, Fulleresque approach (plus, the battle scenes are as striking as SPR, albeit for entirely different reasons).

      • November 13, 2009 10:50 am

        Man, looks like I gotta give Thin Red Line another watch. I do recall the vibe being must more, as you say, poetic, but for the time being, still a bigger fan of SPR. But who knows, things change. Thanks for reading and commenting, man. Really dig your site.

      • madhatter21 permalink
        November 13, 2009 11:38 am

        Even though RYAN is one of my favorite movies, I totally agree with a lot of what you dislike about it. Many of those details I think are what hold it back from becoming a masterpiece.

        TRL is indeed poetry. It touches on the enemy’s point of view in a more elegant way, and also takes a stunning look at not only the battle – but the field on which the battle is being fought.

        The only thing that might hold it back a tad, is that it’s a bit more existentialist than most war films. Not that that’s a bad thing – far from it, just that it isn’t always what one expects when they sit down to watch a war movie. I do love it, RYAN speaks to me a tad clearer, but they’re both equally amazing.

        Now with both of them getting released in the same year, you can see how LINE and RYAN competing against one another could result in SHAKESPEARE sneaking in.

  7. November 13, 2009 1:19 pm

    Oh, I think that TRL and SPR absolutely canceled each other out. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote about the Chicago Film Critics Circle (or maybe it was New York) devolving into an argument over the two until another film entirely won because the votes were so split. Shakespeare in Love is a prime example of Miramax’s stranglehold on Hollywood through the ’90s. They gave us some great things, such as Tarantino and Kevin Smith (sue me, world, I like the guy), but the Weinsteins set in motion the current dismal state of the Oscars today by so blatantly exchanging their cash for gold. Not that the Oscars has ever been truly on the ball, but they used to at least be in the ballpark when it came to the year’s best. I spent most of my teens wishing SPR would have won the Oscar, and even now I think it’s a damn sight better than the three other nominees (do not even get me started on Life is Beautiful)

    And thanks for the kind words about my own blog. I’ve been stumbling across some great stuff lately as I’ve kind of hopped through the blogrolls of some movie sites I like (basically all of these sites have similar listings to yours so I’ve been going between them) and I really like a lot of them, yours included.

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