(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Captain Miller leads a small platoon of men on a mission to save Matt Damon, thus continuing the genre of “Saving Matt Damon Movies.”*
*Courage Under Fire actually got the ball rolling on this a year earlier in Courage Under Fire.
Why It’s on the List: Although The Martian was the first movie discussed where Matt Damon needed to be saved, this is the original. Saving Private Ryan has a gruelling first thirty minutes. Men are killed at random. It’s utter chaos as soldiers are storming the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. This was one of the most tragic days in the history of the world as soldiers are mowed down. Thousands of bodies were strewn about, and that’s not even the main plot of the film. It is quite a harrowing scene, and let’s just say even 13-year-old Jerome was probably still a bit too young. If nothing else, my uncle taking me to see this certainly didn’t make me excited to sign up for the military.
I have never considered myself a super patriotic person, and I don’t ever see that changing. What makes this movie work so well is how different it is from any other Steven Spielberg film. While there is some sentimentality involved, especially when the John Williams score kicks in, it’s a brutality violent affair too. There are still some gnarley parts after the first half hour passes as well. There is an old saying about it being impossible to make an anti-war film. I don’t know whether I agree with that statement, but this movie makes a rather strong argument against it even though the men are on a noble mission.
Besides Tom Hanks anchoring, you had a host of younger Hollywood stars, some of whom have gone onto become major stars like Vin Diesel. Others like Ed Burns and Barry Pepper have done solid work but probably aren’t where they thought they would be. As much as this movie gets praised and shown on holidays like Veterans’ Day, Tom Hanks does go to some dark places. The scene in the second after Giovanni Ribisi’s Wade gets killed is pretty vicious as he orders the Germans to dig graves and kill him. Miller is so shook he lets the soldier go. This is a Steven Spielberg film released by Amblin Entertainment, not Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
Although this is the second of two war movies on this list, I’m usually not a fan of war movies because the violence is so much more disturbing and visceral. There’s almost no scenario where I would be willing to go off and die in one. Seeing this when I did probably gave me a strong distaste for most other war movies that glorify it and this country. Is this movie guilty of doing some of the same thing? Yes, but Spielberg handles this with sensitivity…and let’s face it, Tom Hanks is really good at acting.
*Is war itself not problematic?
MVP: Steven Spielberg won his second Academy Award for Best Director in 1999 for his efforts on Saving Private Ryan. He was regarded as more of a blockbuster director until Schindler’s List came out, and he showed his abilities as a great director. Period. Not that he needed to reconfirm anything, but this was certainly a chance for him to once again show just how good he could be. Although this made a lot of money and won a number of awards, this is a very different film than he’s made before or since. He might be underrated at this point given the volume and body of his career. This is probably my favorite as far as his actual direction.
Best Performance: It’s almost weird Tom Hanks hadn’t played a captain in a war epic before. This was the first time he acted in a Spielberg film, and they’ve since gone on to have many collaborations in movies and on television. He balances being a strong captain with being sympathetic and gives a genuinely moving monologue about duty that also makes it clear that the reason save Private Ryan might not be totally altruistic.
Best Quote: “I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission. You want to leave? You want to go off and fight the war? All right. All right. I won’t stop you. I’ll even put in the paperwork. I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.” – Captain Miller
Is there a sequel? No, although Spielberg and Hanks has been tangentially involved in other World War II projects such as Band of Brothers.