Reviews

Saving Private Ryan

4

Despite receiving universal critical praise in the US, Saving Private Ryan is not as perfect as everyone's claiming. Yet Spielberg's fourth foray into World War Two does deserve much of the hype, as it contains the most believably shocking combat sequences ever seen. It's also the kind of movie that attracts review quotes which pant: "Powerful, honest, moving..." But is this description accurate?

Without doubt, the intensity, attention to detail and sheer volume of combat footage make it a powerful and disturbing experience. The opening 25-minute Omaha Beach battle may be the largest in scale, but it's a blip compared with the closing conflict, which rages for 50 minutes. Around half the total running-time is combat.

And what combat it is, with the visceral madness of warfare highlighted by a jittery hand-held documentary style. Shots of wildly differing exposures are cut together as the viewpoint trips and stumbles across the battlefield without pause to wipe mud, blood and water off the lens. The way each dismemberment and explosion is almost missed gives the impression that Spielberg is capturing only a fraction of the carnage.

Omaha Beach is a shambolic strip of misery bordered on one side by barbed wire and on the other by red waves and dead fish. Soldiers are burned up or chopped into meaty slabs rather than being punched by neat Hollywood holes. Ryan's war is relentless and breathtaking, its battle scenes an exemplary example of faultless movie-making.

But whether or not this is an honest account of World War Two is some-thing the glowing American reviews have ignored. And although the combat realism and period authenticity can't be questioned, other things will stick in the throats of non-American audiences.

Take the no-show of any Allies. While this is forgivable for Omaha Beach (a uniquely American cock-up), it's harder to explain as Captain Miller's eight-man unit move inland. Where are the British, the French, the Polish or the Canadians?

German audiences will likewise be weary at the continuing portrayal of the `master race'. The Americans are a likable blend of doe-eyed teenagers, corn-fed midwesterners and Deep South good ol' boys. When they're killed it's tragic, when they're wounded they cry out for water, morphine or their mothers. But when a German's killed, it's just another dead Nazi, shot down despite his shaven-head, jutting square jaw and piercing, blue eyes. An unbiased historical document? Yeah, right.

Is Saving Private Ryan moving? Unaccountably, no. Beyond the horror of the visuals, the intervening hours fail to tug the heart strings. We're given a single defined sympathetic character, Hanks' Captain Miller. His inner torment is etched on Hanks' face in what must be another Oscar nominee role. But his unit are presented as a sketchy band of combat clichés: a cocky New Yorker, the dependable Sarge, a whining Jewish kid and a cowardly translator. As Ryan, Damon has barely a scene to act before he's plunged into the fighting.

The 'plot' is nothing more than a sequence of events glued together. Between the opening and closing mini-apocalypses, there's a slow-paced, occasionally dull and average meander that pales in comparison with many older war movies. That Edward Zwick's brilliant Glory packs a dozen rounded characters, three massive battles and heart-swelling scenes of horror, courage and sacrifice into two hours really does expose Saving Private Ryan as a bloated and frequently empty experience.

The end result is frustratingly patchy, equally brilliant and lacklustre, and delivers a profoundly mixed message. Are we meant to think that war is an impersonal meat-grinder as in the opening battle, or that a few good men can make a difference, as in the climax? Spielberg set out to make the definitive war movie. He ended up making a grown-up Indiana Jones film with several must-see combat scenes.

Verdict:

Spielberg's triumph is to confront a blood-lust audience and make them flinch at the horror of non-Hollywood reality. But this is no Schindler's List. Technically, it may be the best-made warmovie yet, but dramatically, it barely delivers.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • QTL97

      Oct 10th 2010, 13:55

      3

      saving private ryan is overated. im not saying this is a bad film becuase its not but i think that it is no where near spielbergs best nothing compares to schindlers list or jaws and the films often just drags and the dialoge didnt keep me intrested like many long films did like pulp fiction overall i like saving private ryan but i thi nk its overated

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    • rattleandhum9

      Dec 8th 2010, 22:19

      5

      Here's what you need to understand. Spielberg's goal was not to create a historically accurate WWII piece, or show that multiple allied forces landed on Omaha Beach along with the Americans. The story is centered around a band of AMERICAN soldiers fighting the Nazi superpower and trying to find and bring another American soldier home to his mother. Another thing you need to realize is that Spielberg didn't show any sympathy to the Nazis in the film because there was no reason to, and he didn't have the need to shed any more light on them. To most people, the Nazis are viewed as nothing but blood-thirsty savages. As distorted as that may be, that mentality suited the story structure perfectly, and Spielberg had no intention of lightening it up at all. Overall, other Europeans may feel left out of this movie because other nations DID contribute to the D-Day landings and battles in WWII, but the director's goal during the production of this movie was not to give the credit where it is deserved, but to tell the fictional story of American soldiers, and to make it believable enough for audiences to grasp. Also, your ignorant statement: "An unbiased historical document? Yeah, right." No one ever said this film was unbiased or historically accurate in any way. So please, stop your complaining and take the film for what it was created for.

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    • Igrayne

      Jan 7th 2011, 18:57

      I agree hideously overrated and not historically accurate at all. People are sick enough of seeing Americans winning the war when they did not but this is a time when we are all supposed to be aware of the nonsense written from history. I wonder if Britain or France made a film about winning the war and did not include Americans nowadays would it be accepted? No Americans would be throwing their rattles from their prams. The film was not about fighting the Nazis, it was about the German army and the Nazis do not play a part until the unrealistic and poorly made finale when the shock troops appear and a handful of infantry manage to take out a near regiment of finely trained and battle hardened troops, absolute shash. Spielberg is the king of mush and wins an Academy Award for farting. Remove the first twenty minutes and what is left? Try and ask yourself that question because nobody who is being honest and a true critic will still then say this is a masterpiece. Not only does the film do nothing to sympathise with or appreciate the allies who did not c**k up at Normandy but it tells none of the German side, only that they are stupid and as long as you wear a Stars and Stripes you will win, go America LIKE WHATEVER. Read a book you bloody idiots.

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    • rattleandhum9

      Feb 12th 2011, 19:30

      Here is what you're not understanding. Historical accuracy was NOT the intent of the story structure. If that were the case, then I would count these reviews as accurate. Accept the fact that Spielberg wanted to create a FICTIONAL movie about a band of American soldiers with the Germans as the antagonists. If Spielberg wanted to include other countries in the story then he would have. But he didn't. You know why? Because its FICTIONAL! Now stop viewing the movie on the basis of historical accuracy, and give it a review from a filmmaking perspective. The film was nominated for eleven academy awards, and won five of them including best sound, cinematography, film editing, and sound editing. Aside from the fact that the movie created a new trend in the film industry by being one of the first to use documentary-style filming techniques like hand-held cameras and the "shaky-camera" effect, Saving Private Ryan is internationally recognized for its success in the filming and editing of its battle sequences, most notably the Omaha Beach landing (regardless of its historical accuracy). My advice: take the movie for what it was meant for. View it as a movie, and not as a historical piece, because its anything but that. It's a movie. Movies are meant to be fun and enjoyable to watch. I have done my homework on WWII, and I am well aware of the fact that we Americans would not have won the war without the trusty help of our British, French, Polish friends.

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    • davidcottle

      Mar 6th 2013, 0:44

      Private Ryan brilliant war film Spielberg is a genius full stop is there other war films as good yes .and as for historically accurate the Americans can be realy f*****g annoying like the ridiculous sarcastic remarks towards montgomerie oh and the British are still on the beaches drinking tea what a crock of s**t the British were in fact the first people in two France at Pegasus bridge .oh and by the way rattleandhum hum the Americans never won the war we all did including the Canadians British Russians a small contingent of polish and free French and a massively big help from over two million Indian and common wealth troops who were mostly fighting the Japanese and never get enough credit this must come as a shock to most Americans two k ow we were fighting the Japanese but we were in fact fighting them before you and remember another thing we was fighting this war for six years you were in it for four big difference and your country was never getting bombed at the same time another massive difference . And don't get me started on that Korea just the American there wasn't it yer wright

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