Time has always been a better critic of films than anything else, especially the academy. While Shakespeare in Love was a good movie, most (including me) would say that it robbed Saving Private Ryan of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1998.
Still, over 15 years later, the latter is remembered much more. What makes Saving Private Ryan such a great film is not just the direction, the camera work, the acting, the action sequences, or the story. What makes it the film it has become is the respect it shows to it’s subject matter.
Most of the readers will know what happens in the film, but I will still not spoil it. I remember it was spoiled for me when I first saw it at the age of 12-13, just as it came out of VHS (ah, the good old days!). The film starts out as a veteran visits a cemetery of those lost on D Day (and the days after). It then flashes back to that eventful day, in one of the most epic action scenes ever filmed. It is brutal, gritty, and flinchingly real.
We have just met Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and he has been assigned to bring seven of his troops (including a then unknown Vin Diesel) to rescue Private James Ryan, whose three older brothers have died in combat. It is, as Miller says, “Like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles”.
Many of these soldiers will not make it back alive, which makes it all the more heart breaking, because we have gotten a glimpse of what these guys were like back at home. There is a bet going around to see who can guess what Miller did before the war. When he finally reveals the truth, Hanks gives a speech that shows why is one of the world’s greatest actors.
Parents, I mentioned above what age I was when I first saw the film. While it is Rated R, I feel it is a good movie to watch with a teenager (no younger). In an age where kids are playing first person shooters, it may be nice to show them a movie that ordinary men did this (and still do), and it is no picnic. (Note: There is one scene where a soldier talks about a sexual situation, and there is swearing, but the violence is the main reason for the R rating.)
I can’t do a review of the film without mentioning it’s director, Steven Spielberg (who won his second Oscar for this film). One of the best in the biz, he handles this film with as much grit, realism, and respect as any film he has made. The result is an American film treasure that pays as much tribute to those who have served our country (in any war) as any film ever has.
Overall: Five Stars *****