"Seen through the eyes of a squad of American soldiers, the story begins with World War II's historic D-Day invasion, then moves beyond the beach as the men embark on a dangerous special mission. Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) must take his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in combat. Faced with impossible odds, the men question their orders. Why are eight men risking their lives to save just one? Surrounded by the brutal realities of war, each man searches for his own answer - and the strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honor, decency and courage," according to the film's official synopsis.
Once again, the Steven Spielberg and his crew of filmmakers climb to the top of the mountain, and deliver a terrific motion picture. This time, it's a heart-tugging pro-war (significantly, pro-World War II) epic of astonishing power. Initially, "Saving Private Ryan" impresses with its violent depiction of the Allies' D-Day landing, on the shores of German-occupied France. With waves of blood, Mr. Spielberg shows the human cost of defeating Fascism - by what TV anchorman Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation"; although, honestly, every generation has its greatest, this is a fitting term.
Captain Hanks and his squad - Edward Burns (as Reiben), Jeremy Davies (as Upham), Vin Diesel (as Caparzo), Adam Goldberg (as Mellish), Barry Pepper (as Jackson), Giovanni Ribisi (as Wade), and Tom Sizemore (as Horvath) - are among the few to survive the invasion; and, are ordered to save Mr. Damon's "Ryan" (for the reasons given above). During quieter times, the personalities of the men emerge, with Spielberg and writer Robert Rodat creatively painting human portraits. The silhouette of the "war mother" dropping to her stoop as the military vehicle approaches is one of the film's most simple, and effective, portraits; it supports the film's prime directive.
Hanks and the men are a more complicated literary group of characters than they seem. Spielberg is obviously manipulating the story through them; and, their strongly-directed, natural performances help make it work. The film's main message is delivered by schoolteacher Hanks' "Miller" in his final words to student Damon's "Ryan"; listen for them. And, don't miss the secondary message, told by Mr. Davies' multilingual "Upham" character; especially, watch how he pleads with Hanks to set a German hostage free, and note the consequences of their action.
It's tough to rank performances in an "ensemble acting" film (they're all stellar), but, for literary greatness, you've got to add Mr. Ribisi's doctor "Wade" to most memorable list. He tells an incredibly introspective story about how he pretended to be sleeping when his mother would peak into his room; note, eventually, Ribisi goes home to "Mama". Also interesting is how Mr. Sizemore's "Horvath" serves as the "voice" of Spielberg/Rodat, exalting and purifying Hanks' character. He says both the film's title and tag-line ("Except this time, the mission is a man").
Spielberg's use of "flashback" is one of the best you'll ever see; and, he definitively defines the term "gut-wrenching decision."
********** Saving Private Ryan (7/24/98) Steven Spielberg ~ Tom Hanks, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, Giovanni Ribisi
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