Reviews: Saving Private Ryan

This "classic" is a real SNAFU

Which is to say "Situation Normal: American & F'd Up".

There are spoilers in this review.

Ever watched Johnny Got His Gun? That big, plump middle finger erected to war and the hubris that drives it no matter who fights it? As C. Aubrey Smith's character in "Four Feathers" said, "WAHH WAS WAHH." Even in the most proud and glorious of victories came shameful defeats, like the one suffered by the main character.

In Saving Private Ryan, we get American flags, vengeful Krauts, and "Betty Boop, what a dish".

It seems that that the film primarily caters to gore-hungry tweens (Check the statistics on any Youtube video pertaining to it) and hairy lumps of American patriotism. In one particularly obnoxious scene, the squad's medic is grievously injured during a chaotic battle. The main characters' first reaction is to unleash their rage on the last surviving German (of course, they suffer only one casualty after obliterating all the Germans). Do these guys even realize that, assuming the German had anything to do with shooting their medic, it was obviously not intentional? The token "pussy", of course, frees him, but Spielberg only uses the scene as an opportunity to harangue his audience by insinuating that the only course of action should have been to ice the young fighter (and to show our useless infant morph into a soldier).

Of course, the Americans (Britons, Canadians, and French were not in Normandy, right?) rack up atrocities of their own. They happily immolate Germans to make them suffer more, shoot surrendering enemies, and generally conduct operations that cause more destruction than what we see the "other side" do. Do they ever get their comeuppance?

Here is a film that takes that old Truffaut saying and kicks it, shoots it, beats it with a rifle, sets it on fire, and finds out that it was actually from North Dakota and sets out to find the other one and do worse to it. In fact, its conclusion depicts nothing other than a gloriously fluttering set of stars and stripes. Wanna bet that half the guys at the Sioux Center, IA showing were drooling?

Stick with Johnny Got His Gun - it's an inglorious portrayal of war that paints with such broad, naked, and real brushstrokes that the viewer practically has to pick hirself up off the floor.

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.