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Saving Private Ryan

February 12, 2011

926. Saving Private Ryan
Directed by Steven Spielberg
USA, 1998
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


Three brothers from the Ryan family have died in action in a very short space of time, and their mother is due to receive three death notification telegrams in one day.

When General George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell) learns of this family tragedy he is determined to send the fourth brother home; but the whereabouts of Private James Ryan are unknown. Marshall orders Capt. John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) to gather a unit and locate Private Ryan (Matt Damon). The unit have their doubts — is it worth it to put all their lives at risk to find one man?

Essential Scene:

It’s June 6th, 1944, and American troops are preparing to land on Omaha Beach. The sea is rough, and soldiers in the landing craft vomit from seasickness and fear while others pray for their lives. The following twenty (or so) minutes of film is the most celebrated element of Saving Private Ryan, and it deserves to be. Out of this, I choose the following for my chosen moment.

Capt. John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) has survived leaving the landing craft and he trudges through the waves onto the beach. Bodies and limbs surround him and the sea is red with blood.

The noise is deafening; bullets ricochet off metal, bombs explode, and soldiers yell to each other or scream in agony. Suddenly everything slows down and the sound mutes. We see things from Miller‘s perspective. What we see is the sheer horror of war.

A boy soldier, no older than 18, cowers behind the metal blocks and weeps as he tries to avoid the flying bullets.

An explosion sends flames shooting across at least three soldiers, turning them to ashes in an instant.

A dazed soldier absent-mindedly searches for and finds his missing arm.

Another explosion sets a group of soldiers alight.

Miller grabs his helmet from the bloody sea and places it on his head, and in his current state he cannot hear a soldier who is standing in front of him and yelling. The sound returns with a bang and the soldier is heard:

Soldier: I said, “What the hell do we do now, sir?!”


I must stop putting labels on films I haven’t seen. I expected Saving Private Ryan to be a bit heavy on sentimentality and, although some people may disagree, I don’t believe it was.

There is sadness, but these images are true to life and would be sad with or without Spielberg. An elderly veteran looking at the graves of his fellow soldiers. A young soldier calling out for his mother while dying on the battlefield.  They’re emotional because they’re genuine. I’m normally the first person to point out Hollywood schmaltz, and barring the tried and tested shot of an American flag fluttering in the breeze, I do think Spielberg got the levels about right this time.

Initially the plot seemed a little unlikely to me until I did a little research into the film’s inspirations. The Niland Brothers were involved in a similar situation during the war, with the (presumed) last surviving son being sent home to complete his service. With many families being affected by multiple losses, the US government implemented the sole-survivor policy in 1948.

I found the film to be very impressive overall. The cinematography was stunning, and the actors managed to bring some personality to characters that aren’t meant to be particularly well-rounded.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    February 12, 2011 2:44 pm

    This is a great review, it’s inspired me to give this film another chance. I think I was guilty of judging it prior to watching it before, and had no idea about the sole-survivor policy. Thanks, Rachel! :)

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