"Saving Private Ryan" DVD, Blu-ray Review

5/09/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"Saving Private Ryan"

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Written by Robert Rodat, 170 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Are you a fan of "Black Hawk Down"? "Band of Brothers"? "Flags of Our Fathers"? Or, really, any American war film from the past 10 years? If so, you can thank "Saving Private Ryan," Steven Spielberg's epic, brutal and powerful story of one company of men struggling to save the life of one man during the invasion of Normandy in World War II.

You have to thank this film because it's the archetype for everything one sees in 9 out of every 10 modern war films. The uncomfortable, shaky camera, the quick cutting, the gut-wrenching violence, the wide cast of characters, the confusing mix of patriotism and anti-war sentiment--"Saving Private Ryan" combined all of these elements and became what has basically become the definitive war film of this generation.

It starts off with a bang, with what is easily its most well-known and oft-referenced sequence, wherein Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his company assist in the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day. It's graphically violent, horrific, loud and messy, and at an unrelenting half-hour or so, it takes up a large percentage of the film.

There's no doubt this sequence is an absolutely masterful technical achievement, and it serves as a perfect opening to the film. Watching hundreds of men get cut down within seconds, serving as little more than cover for the soldiers following them, is about as effective an anti-war sentiment as it gets. As the battle rages on, one specific soldier--one whose last name is Ryan--has been killed on the beach, the third of four brothers to be killed in the war, and when some higher-ups learn of these circumstances, they demand that a team go in and find the fourth and youngest brother, James Ryan, and bring him home.

This grotesque and visceral masterpiece of a sequence is so often cited that people tend to forget there's a whole film attached to it. Outside of its rather unique (at the time) style and realistic portrayal of violence, the film is actually a lot like Steven Spielberg's more nostalgic output. Where "Indiana Jones" references the pulp adventure stories of the '40s, "Saving Private Ryan" is a lot like a typical "men-on-a-mission" war film you might see coming out of the '40s, '50s or '60s, the main differences being almost entirely technical. I suppose the general dialogue is a bit more sophisticated and realistic as well, but other than that, this is very much a traditional war film made modern.

That said, what really makes this film isn't even entirely the action. It's all about the characters. Spielberg filled the film with fantastic talents, young and old, and every one of them makes their character interesting, likable and distinctive. Along with Hanks, we have Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Paul Giamatti, Ted Danson and Matt Damon as the Private Ryan of the title, among many others, and every one of them provides an excellent performance. Davies especially is fantastic as the soft-spoken and timid young Colonel Upham, the interpreter of Miller's company.

The main dilemma that pops up in the film due to its loyalty to traditional war films mixing with anti-war sentiments, however, are some really mixed messages. Is war patriotic or is it Hell? Are German soldiers inhuman monsters or are they just like us? And does the death of one man always truly save the lives of a dozen? Spielberg's attempts to have his cake and eat it too gives the film a pretty muddled message. I suppose it comes down to what each viewer believes is more effective imagery--hundreds of young men getting shot down on a beach or an American flag waving as one man some of them gave their lives for mourns at their graves.

Whatever the case, the film is incredibly effective on a visceral level, there's no doubting that, and Spielberg's direction is truly at its best in the film's multiple, deftly executed action sequences. It would be a shame to discredit the film solely because of its unfocused thematic intentions.

It's great stuff. Best picture worthy? Yeah, perhaps it deserved it more than "Shakespeare in Love," but when it comes down to it, I think its epic level of influence is rewarding enough--though, really, most modern American war films haven't come close to matching it.

Grade: B+

Below is the trailer for "Saving Private Ryan." What are your thoughts of the movie?

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