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Film Review - Saving Private Ryan
Game over! We know which film is going to win best picture come Oscar time in March 1999. In spite of the fact there really haven't been any great films in 1998 until now, even if there had been, Saving Private Ryan packs quite a wallop. It, like Schindler's List, shows just how great a filmmaker Steven Spielberg really is.
The film isn't big on plot. It's big on recreation of history, and it's strong on characters. But each of these strong suits have slight flaws -- small, tiny, but there.
The film opens with a re-creation of the Normandy Invasion. This is done to exacting details; it is grim and real. We see parts of bodies being blown off, not in some horror film blood-caked-on-the-walls fashion, but in a very anatomically correct way. This realism horrifies you. As I watched all of this, when I was thinking of looking away, part of me said I would be spitting on the graves of the real men who died that day. I bought a ticket; I was now obligated to watch and remember.
What doesn't work for me is a technique Spielberg used during the chaos of the invasion. Spielberg used hand-held cameras, and in some shot digitally-removed frames to make the action jerky. This kept distracting me from the film. I understand why a director would do this when he really doesn't have a picture to show, but that wasn't the case with Spielberg's project. I wish it had not been done.
As the picture unfolds, we are introduced to a core group of characters. Each of these characters is completely believable, except one. The exception is Private Ryan himself. The men of the rescue squad who have been given the duty of finding Ryan and getting him out of France look like a cross section of Depression Era America. Each one wishes he weren't there. Some of them do things we would like to tell ourselves they wouldn't do, such as shooting Germans trying to surrender. We don't condone the action, but it's understandable and believable under the circumstances.
With all of these completely three-dimensional characters, Ryan is only two-dimensional ... there's no depth. When told his brothers were all dead and that he was being sent home, Ryan pulls some phony "I'm sure everyone wants to go home" BS. It just doesn't work. Fortunately the role is very small.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Released in 1998
MPAA Rating: R
Reviewed by Mongo