Saving Private Ryan

Year: 1998
Production Co: Amblin Entertainment
Studio: Dreamworks
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Robert Rodat
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Nathan Fillion
This is the film that introduced Word War II to a new generation of filmgoers. I remember hearing at the time about several epic WWII movies in the works, and it makes one wonder if the glory of Americans in battle affected the national mood somewhat, September 11 merely providing the catalyst for an orgy of military adventurism after the newly minted president and a pliable public were on a permanent war footing.

But everything from Band of Brothers to Flags of Our Fathers and Enemy at the Gates to Pearl Harbor owes its mystique to Spielberg's magnum opus. The boys-own adventure of The Wild Geese and Where Eagles Dare was well and truly over. The concussive, harrowing ten minute Omaha beach landing opening sequence put war movies firmly back in All Quiet on the Western Front territory.

The Allies weren't all shrewd, capable heros, the Nazis not moustache twirling villains. They were all young boys given guns and sent to kill. They were terrified, lonely, and died horribly. What else are scenes of the flamethrower engulfing a platoon or a soldier walking back and forth looking for his arm in the surf about but the war is hell motif?

It makes no sense now we look back for what was essentially a Gallipoli -like peacenik stance to become the marker for the beginning of the Glory of Battle movement in film that's still going on as I write this review ten years later. But it also fits squarely in the 'why we fight' file along with the likes of We Were Soldiers. As James Ryan (Damon) says, he won't abandon his post even though he has a free pass because he won't let his platoon buddies down.

It's not the first time we've heard this message from a movie - that the entire spirit of warfare is based men who've become such good friend through the rigours of military life than they're only there to support each other rather than to unseat political tyranny.

Ryan is tracked down by Captain Miller (Hanks) and his platoon after the bloody but ultimately successful Normandy landing. With two of his brothers killed in the battle, the brass decides to spare his family the agony of losing three sons in one day and gives him an unconditional leave from the army so he can go home.

When Ryan refuses to leave his post Miller's platoon has little choice but to accompany him on his team's mission penetrating the rubble of Europe before he'll leave with them.

It's less a plot than a reason to exhibit both the horrors of war and the incredible technical expertise of the director, skills we hadn't really seen since Jurassic Park.

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