Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore
Tag line: "The Mission Is a Man"
Trivia: All the principal actors underwent several days of grueling army training - except for Matt Damon, who was spared so that the other actors would resent him, and would convey that resentment in their performances
Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, opens with a bloody reenactment of the invasion of Normandy, an amphibious landing along the coast of France carried out by the Allies on June 6, 1944. This sequence, which runs for approximately 30 minutes, is devastating, and gave me a whole new respect for the men who sacrificed everything they could on that June day. Yet it’s the emotions, which go hand-in-hand with such loss, that make up the heart of Saving Private Ryan, and prove just as destructive as any battle.
Having survived the assault on Omaha Beach, Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) is next given a special assignment, one that comes directly from the top; locate and rescue Pvt. James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose exact whereabouts are currently unknown. It seems Ryan’s three brothers, who also enlisted when the U.S. entered the war, have all been killed in action within the last week. Gen. George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell) has ordered Ryan be found and brought back alive, so he may return home to be with his family during their time of grief. Most of the men under Miller’s command, including Sgt. Mike Horvath (Tom Sizemore), Pvt. Richard Reiben (Edward Burns) and Pvt. Daniel Jackson (Barry Pepper), are none too happy to be risking their necks to save a single man. But Miller accepts the mission and leads his squad deep into occupied France, where they hope to track down a soldier lost in the chaos of war, who may or may not be alive.
Intense feelings are at play in Saving Private Ryan, and Spielberg guides us through them in a very meticulous manner, starting us off with barbarity and pandemonium on a grand scale (the beaches at Normandy), then slowly narrowing the story down to the effect war has on the individual. Yet while the film’s scope may narrow, the intensity of the experience is never diminished. For Capt. Miller’s men, every mile deeper into enemy territory gives them time to think. They begin to resent Ryan, whom they’ve never met, because he's suddenly become the sole reason they're fighting so far from home. But what about Ryan? What happens when, and if, they find him? Aside from learning his brothers are dead, Ryan must also deal with the fact a group of fellow soldiers risked their lives (some losing them) so he could get a free ticket back to the States. Is he worthy of such a sacrifice? If he lives to be a hundred, will a day pass that he won’t remember it?
The first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan are a violent account of the atrocities of war. The final 2+ hours are a journey into the crippling emotions that, for most, last longer than any physical wounds. As Saving Private Ryan demonstrates, war is hell on many, many levels.