Opening with what is unquestionably the greatest battle sequence in cinema history, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is a sneak peek into the battlefield that completely redefined combat genre, destroyed many Hollywood cliché & permanently cemented its place amongst world cinema’s all-time finest war films. And what’s even more impressive is that it accomplishes all of the above said things within the first 30 minutes into the picture. Extremely intense, powerfully moving, brutally realistic & providing a truly unforgettable experience with its unflinching take on the horrors of war, Saving Private Ryan may not be the finest war film ever made but it certainly is a landmark cinema as it not only changed the way people imagined war to be but it also ended up altering everything there ever was about warfare filmmaking, forever.
The main plot of Saving Private Ryan surfaces after the devastating but successful invasion of Normandy by Allied Powers during the Second World War. Near the end of the opening Omaha beach sequence, the camera hovers over a dead body of a soldier named Ryan. We soon learn that this deceased Ryan has three more brothers out of which two have been killed in action & the third one is missing somewhere behind enemy lines and that their mother will soon be receiving telegrams informing of her sons’ deaths, all delivered at the same time. When the General is informed of this unfortunate news, he orders that the only alive Ryan be found, dismissed from military service & sent home immediately. The main plot concerns a select squad of US soldiers, who are assigned a new mission to go past the enemy lines, locate Private First Class James Francis Ryan & safely bring him back to his mother.
If one takes a look at the directional career of Steven Spielberg, it’s not very hard to figure out that this highly esteemed filmmaker, who has achieved legendary status with his action-adventure themed films, has always been kind of obsessed with the genre of war. And although Schindler’s List was set in the background of World War II, it isn’t “purely” a war film. But with Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg challenges & breaks every barrier of action filmmaking for this film is his all out assault on the viewers’ psyche as he takes the audience right into the battlefield with all the blood, bullets & limbs flying around. Plus, the on-screen carnage is deeply felt as Spielberg leaves no stone unturned to picture it as graphically-realistic as possible. Also making significant contributions to the film’s gritty portrayal of combat is its desaturated cinematography, brilliant performances from its cast and its state-of-the-art visual & sound effects.
There isn’t anything but praise for the film’s technical aspects, just like almost every film by Steven Spielberg. The desaturated colour of the film gives the whole film a heightened sense of realism and the handheld camera work as well as its point of view shooting is brilliantly carried out. Editing is absolutely top-notch when it comes to the battle sequences but it could’ve done better in the rest of the movie as its dramatic moments don’t carry the same momentum as its action segments do. Visual effects are generally at its best when it’s hard to distinguish what was captured on camera & what was modified in the post-production and in that aspect, the VFX team has done a fantastic job. Sound always plays a major role, even more so in war films, and it didn’t disappoint but only amazed in this film. And finally, the music by John Williams doesn’t have much to contribute here as the film relies more on sound & silence for its narration and except for one track, the score is nearly absent throughout this film.
Coming to the performances, Saving Private Ryan features an ensemble cast comprising of Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel & others, all led by none other than one of cinema’s finest actors, Tom Hanks. Also, the film provides ample time for the viewers to get acquainted with every character’s personalities. Tom Hanks delivers another swashbuckling yet subtle performance as Captain John Miller and is the most impressive of them all. Matt Damon also makes his mark felt in his short but pivotal role as Pvt. First Class James Ryan. Tom Sizemore as Miller’s deputy Sgt. Horvath, Edward Burns as automatic rifleman Pvt. First Class Reiben, Barry Pepper as sharpshooter Pvt. Jackson, Adam Goldberg & Vin Diesel as riflemen Pvt. Mellish & Pvt. Caparzo respectively, and Giovanni Ribisi as medic Wade & Jeremy Davies as Upham also chipped in with crucial contributions to the film with their genuine, strong performances.
In spite of all the praise & it putting up perhaps the most spellbinding depiction of war on-screen, Saving Private Ryan isn’t flawless & comes with its share of disappointments. The biggest drawback for this film is that the opening sequence is so devastating on an emotional scale that the very scene also turns out to be its self-defeating moment as the film is never able to reach the very same heights again for the rest of its runtime. The drama that sets in after the Omaha beach battle is captivating to some extent but the story still gives an impression of dragging itself towards the end as the drama is unable to follow the film’s opening act with same emotional grip on its viewers. But it does rise once again in the final 30 minutes with another intense battle sequence to finish on a high note and there are action moments at regular intervals in the film to keep the momentum going.
Another major problem easily noticeable is its relentless emphasis on glorifying America as some real-life events depicted in the film completely ignore the aid USA received from other nations during the D-Day landings while the extremely biased illustration of German soldiers is really insulting. The movie is specifically made for American audience as the US soldiers are shown as compassionate people with human values while the Germans are painted as barbaric & pure definition of evils. Yet on an overall scale, even after weighing the positives with the negatives, there is no denying that Saving Private Ryan breaks new grounds for its genre & remains one of the most influential war films of all time. Guaranteed to entertain most action fans & immortal for its contribution to its genre, Saving Private Ryan presents director Steven Spielberg at his brutal best and will forever be remembered as one of the finest war films of its or any other time.