Whether in potrayal, tone, or message, Saving Private Ryan is a true masterpiece.
Trying to create a great war movie is a challenging undertaking. Many times, developers fall into pits of unrealism, sometimes by trying to moralize the whole conflict, making things too "cool," missing out on key details, or just not knowing how to capture the essence of the war in question.
Thankfully, Saving Private Ryan manages to avoid all of these things, spectacularly.
The opening scenes do a magnificent job of both setting the audiences expectations and establishing the mood. The Normandy Cemetery builds anticipation of just who lived and who died, while the hellish minutes on Omaha Beach capture the horror and desperation of war as best as Hollywood is able. It is doubtful that any media production will ever be able to replicate the true events of that day with 100% faithfulness, but this movie get far closer than most others. There is little flag waving or grandiose patriotism. The focus is on the men who fought the war, not the war itself.
The characters are very human, relatable, and interesting. Everyone seems to have a story to tell, none too fantastic and none too contrived. They are neither paradigms of justice nor cold blooded killers. They are soldiers and fight as such. They get angry, they feel compassion, they shiver in fear, they take revenge, they try to keep each other alive, they fight desperately for their lives, and most want nothing more than for this mission to be over so they can go home, but despite that, they stick to the mission until the end. This human quality is what makes the tragedy so gut wrenching when it comes.
The action scenes are well choreographed and also very realistic. There are some command decisions that don't fit so well from both sides, but they are only noticeable if you're particularly well versed in WWII era tactics. Aside from that, the fighting is intense, chaotic, and unforgiving. Battles play out as one would expect them to, with nothing breaking the suspension of disbelief. Nothing is trivialized or made surreal, leaving the audience on the edge of their seat to try and find out just how it will end.
It all boils down the final scene, which is so emotionally charged that few people that I have known to watch it can come away without shedding a tear.
All in all, no matter what age, gender, or nationality, this is a masterpiece that few can match and is a must watch.