Top 100 Movie Review: No. 037 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Ranked 037 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017). Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Tom Hanks (Captain Miller), Tom Sizemore (Sergeant Horvath), Edward Burns (Private Reiben), Barry Pepper (Private Jackson), Adam Goldberg (Private Mellish), Vin Diesel (Private Caparzo), Giovanni Ribisi (T-4 Medic Wade), Jeremy Davies (Corporal Upham), Matt Damon (Private Ryan), Ted Danson (Captain Hamill)
Director:  Steven Spielberg
My rating: 8.5 / 10

An elderly veteran visits the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial with his family. At a tombstone, he falls to his knees in anguish.

On the morning of 6 June 1944, American soldiers land on Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy Invasion. They suffer heavy losses in assaulting fortified German defensive positions with long and desperate fighting. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) of the 2nd Ranger Battalion leads a breakout from the beach. Elsewhere on the beach, a dead soldier lies face-down in the bloody surf; his pack is written Ryan, S.

In Washington, D.C., at the U.S. War Department, General George Marshall learns that three of the four sons of the Ryan family were killed in action and that the fourth son, James Francis Ryan, is with the 101st Airborne Division somewhere in Normandy. After reading Abraham Lincoln’s Bixby letter aloud, Marshall orders Ryan brought home.

Three days after D-Day, Miller receives orders to find Ryan and bring him back. He chooses seven men from his company – Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore), Privates First Class Reiben (Edward Burns) and Caparzo (Vin Diesel), Privates Mellish(Adam Goldberg) and Jackson (Barry Pepper), T/4 medic Wadeand (Giovanni Ribisi ) and a German and French interpreter with no combat experience Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies).

They move out to Neuville, where they meet a squad of the 101st engaged against the enemy. Caparzo is killed by a German sniper who is then killed by Jackson. They locate a Private James Ryan, only to learn that he is James Frederick Ryan and not who they were looking for. 

Near Ramelle, Miller decides to neutralise a German machine gun position at a derelict radar station, despite his men’s misgivings. Wade is killed in the skirmish. At Upham’s urging, Miller declines to execute a surviving German soldier, and sets him free. As a result Reiben declares his intention to desert, prompting a confrontation with Horvath. Miller defuses the standoff by disclosing his civilian career as a high school English teacher, about which his men had set up a betting pool; Reiben decides to stay.

At Ramelle, they find Ryan (Matt Damon) among a small group of paratroopers preparing to defend the key bridge against an imminent German attack. Miller tells Ryan that his brothers are dead, and that he was ordered to bring him home. Ryan is distressed about his this but is unwilling to leave his post and his brothers in arms.

 Unwilling to force Ryan to leave his post Miller decides to combine his unit with the paratroopers in defence of the bridge. He devises a plan to ambush the enemy with two .30-caliber guns, Molotov cocktails, anti-tank mines and improvised satchel charges made from socks.

Elements of the Panzer Division arrive with two tanks, all protected by German infantry and attack. The US forces are overwhelmed with the superior number but they manage to inflict heavy casualties on the Germans, most of the paratroopers, along with Mellish and Horvath, are killed; Upham is immobilized by fear directly leading to Jackson being killed by the German prisoner Upham convinced Miller to free earlier at the radar station

Miller attempts to blow up the bridge, but is shot and he then crawls to retrieve the bridge detonator, and fires ineffectually but defiantly with his pistol at an oncoming tank. As the tank reaches the bridge, American planes fly in and kill many German soldiers and their remaining tank, after which American armoured units arrive to rout the remaining Germans. With the Germans in full retreat.

Upham emerges from hiding and shoots the German prisoner he helped free earlier dead but allows the other Germans to live.

Reiben and Ryan are with the dying Miller as he utters his last words, “James… earn this. Earn it”. As the scene transitions to the present, Ryan is revealed to be the elderly veteran, who is standing in front of Miller’s grave expressing his gratitude for the sacrifices Miller and his unit made. Ryan asks his wife if he was worthy of such sacrifice, to which she replies that he is. The film ends with Ryan saluting Miller’s grave.

What’s to Like
The intensive beach landing / invasion, the acting, the realistic battle scenes, the historical setting.

What’s not to Like

An incredible cast, the most historical setting in the last century (Europe World War 2) with one of the great directors in Steven Spielberg, this movie hits the ground running, with a short introduction to an elderly WW2 Veteran at a graveyard and we go back to the Normandy landing on 6 June 1994 for a long an intensive 30 plus minutes of the mayhem and death of warfare that feels so real you are glad you have never experienced it for real.

Some people think the movie goes downhill from this point but even with this intense start you still get a lot of action and character studies of these ‘Band of Brothers’ as they try to complete a mission they don’t believe in, finding one soldier to let him return home and morn the loss of all his brothers with his surviving mother.  It’s also interesting that the show the negative consequences on not killing an unarmed German solider who later kills members of their small team.

The visuals and sounds alone make this a movie to experience but the story of the bond between men thrown together in extreme circumstances is well covered and worth understanding.  The movie doesn’t glorify war, even if there is a message of you still needing to fight and do terrible things sometime.

A powerful experience best watched in the dark without distractions.

Academy Awards

  • Best Director (Steven Spielberg) – winner
  • Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski) – winner
  • Best Sound – winner
  • Best Film Editing – winner
  • Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Robert Rodat) – nominee
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – nominee
  • Best Makeup – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Dramatic Score – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
This entry was posted in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s