Film #14 on the 100 Movies Bucket List: Saving Private Ryan
When I think of war films, I immediately think of Saving Private Ryan. This is partly because I shamefully haven’t seen the majority of the older classic war films (but I may have done by the time I reach the end of this list), and also because this is the first war film I ever saw. I have my dad to thank for introducing me to this, he was obsessed with anything war-related, and while I would never admit this to him as a teenager, even back then I could appreciate how brilliant this film was.
Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 World War II epic from Steven Spielberg that follows a group of soldiers as they embark on a mission across France to rescue a man whose 3 brothers have been killed in action. It stars Tom Hanks as Captain Miller, leading a host of recognisable faces including Vin Diesel (Caparzo), Barry Pepper (Jackson), Tom Sizemore (Horvath), Giovanni Ribisi (Wade), Edward Burns (Reiben) and Jeremy Davies as Upham as they trek across country to find Matt Damon’s Private Ryan.
The main plot is definitely very Hollywood, but the film itself looks and feels like anything but a glamorous Hollywood blockbuster. This is by far the grittiest, darkest and most horrific war film I’ve seen to date. Spielberg does not shy away from displaying the true horror of war, from the blood and gore of the fighting to the physical and psychological effects it had on the soldiers, it’s all here in all of its horrifying glory. One of the most memorable scenes of any war film is the opening sequence of the D-Day landings, that shows a haunting and frightfully bloody side of the war that no other films have managed to capture in such a dark and emotionally draining manner. Even the opening scene in Arlington Cemetery, especially when paired with a moving score from John Williams, is a tearjerker only a few minutes into the 2.5 hour runtime. I don’t know how factually realistic this whole film is, but it’s definitely one of the most compellingly believable films I’ve ever seen, especially the death scenes.
Visually the cinematography helps with the dark and gritty feeling. Everything looks grey and drab, even hazy at times, and this only helps to promote the overall tone of the film. Admittedly there are parts of this now that do look a little dated and there are a few early scenes with a strange out of place camera flare, but considering it was released 23 years ago, it’s aged pretty well and still looks quite good. It’s helped by a truly stellar cast lead by the ever-brilliant Tom Hanks, whose turn as Captain Miller is hauntingly good. The fact that he didn’t win the Oscar for his performance is criminal. Him alongside the rest of the cast, including memorably brash Brooklynite Reiben (Burns) and God-fearing elite sniper Jackson (Pepper), completely embody the camaraderie, friendship and sometimes hostility shown by the group of men perfectly. My only slight criticism of this film is that after growing to know and like these men over the course of the film, there is a question mark over some of their fates at the end which is a tiny bit disappointing.
Saving Private Ryan won 5 Oscars, including Best Director and Best Cinematography, but was nominated for many others including Best Picture, which in my opinion it deserved far more than the film that won in 1999 (Shakespeare in Love), as this is undoubtedly an all-time classic war film.
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