As I sat watching the battle for the bridge at the end of this movie for the second time, I couldn’t hold back my tears. But it wasn’t because the movie characters were dying; it was because similar scenes actually happened. I couldn’t help but wonder what war does to the souls of men, and I cried for the brave men who fought and died a bit inside each time they killed someone. I think that’s the greatest thing that Saving Private Ryan does. It reminds us that ordinary men sacrificed not just their lives, but bits of their souls, to protect the world from unimaginable evil. It makes us ask the question that is asked at the end: Am I a good person? Do I deserve the sacrifices that were made?
So what’s the story? After D-Day, three of the Ryan brothers have died. The youngest is still alive, and the war department decides that he is going to go home. Captain John Miller is ordered to take a small squad of men to go find him somewhere in Normandy. As they search for Private Ryan, they continue to face the dangers of war.
The Good: There is so much good in this movie, it’s hard to get it all down. All of the performances were perfect, from the thirty seconds we see of Mrs. Ryan to the more than two hours of Tom Hanks. It was surprising, but nice, to see Vin Diesel playing something other than an action hero.
The screenplay allowed us to catch glimpses of the soldiers as men. For example, when Captain Miller orders Caparzo to leave the kids behind, Caparzo says he can’t, because the little girl reminds him of his niece. Just that little line made me see Caparzo at a big family gathering with kids running around and screaming and playing. He probably wasn’t joining in on the play, but he was the kind of uncle who would give a kid a nickel to go buy a soda. There were little things like that sprinkled throughout that just made everyone seem more alive.
I loved the cinematography. I’m not sure whose call it was to use more muted colors, but those colors made it seem more like a memory than something that was currently happening. I thought it was a brilliant decision.
When the small group first heads out, I was extremely frustrated. I didn’t know any of the soldiers’ names, and they were all wearing their helmets, so I couldn’t tell them apart very well. But as the movie went on, I realized that the viewers were having the same experience as Upham of being thrown together with men they didn’t know, but would grow fond of as the story progressed. It made for very effective storytelling.
The Bad: Tom Hanks did not give a bad performance, but he never became Captain John Miller to me. He became a captain who cared about his men, a man who missed his family, a man who was losing himself and didn’t know how to stop it, but he still remained Tom Hanks. (Captain Tom Hanks, maybe?) It’s not his fault or the fault of the movie. I think it might be the media. We see actors in magazines and on the internet so often as real people that sometimes it’s hard to suspend the disbelief and let them be who they are supposed to be in the role. On the other hand, I had no problem with the other actors at all. I was watching for Nathan Fillion and almost didn’t catch him, and I didn’t realize Ted Danson was in this movie at all until I looked at the cast list. That was good. Tom Hanks just couldn’t break the “That’s Tom Hanks!” barrier in my mind.
The frame story bugged the heck out of me. Having the old man at the end was fine, but starting with him just felt wrong, somehow. (Although I would like to know how they find people who look so much like an old version of someone. The resemblance in this movie really is amazing.)
The Ugly: War is ugly. That’s all there is to it. And because this movie is so accurate, it is extremely hard to watch. I watched most of it twice, but I couldn’t handle watching the first half hour again. I am so grateful for the men who did what they did in the war, and I am so glad that I will never have to do that myself.
Oscars Won: Best director; best cinematography; best sound; best film editing; best effects, sound effects editing.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Tom Hanks); best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen; best art direction-set direction; best makeup; best music, original dramatic score.