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Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan
War Action / English / 1998

Back to war movies. I wanted to rewatch this and I realized I didn't have a review for it already.


I didn't expect it to, but Saving Private Ryan has joined the elite few movies that have managed to get me tearing up by the end.

I was struggling for a bit to articulate what I liked about this movie, or what is "good" about this movie, I'm well aware that it is popularly considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest war movies ever made, and I really wanted to come away with a more than shallow perspective on it.

I think this movie sticks out among most American war movies because most of them usually fall in line with a variety of subgenres:

Patriot Porn: This exists to be a *********** tribute to the state by glorifying war and the military.

Patronizing Pacifism: This exists to click the collective tongue at any form of violence at all by demonizing the state and acting as though war in and of itself can wished away with sunshine and rainbows. It's just male bravado that causes all these problems really...

War Epics: This exists just to tell a story and uses the war and the military as the backdrop and/or props to tell a greater narrative about... saving the world, or some shitty romance, or maybe the creators really want to bring some historical event to the big screen.

I don't feel like SPR falls into any of these categories. It doesn't comment on the circumstances of WW2 or the politics, it doesn't even really concern itself with the relationships between it's characters, the violence is neither glamorized or overly dramatized, it's just sort of presented as is with an intimate peak into the human element at ground level.

It really seems to be that if Saving Private Ryan is about anything, it's not about Private Ryan, it's not about Captain Miller, it's not about the battalion he leads, their successes or their failures... it's really just about trying to the makes the losses they do suffer worth something.

And I think that's communicated in the one title drop they do in the movie:

Someday we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole godawful, shitty mess.
Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition is also a recurring acknowledgment in the movie. We're taking for granted that the situation, whoever you might like to blame for it, is a catastrophe.

It's ****ed that Nazi Germany tried to take over Europe, it's ****ed that the US drafted citizens and basically threw them to their deaths on the beaches of Normandy. It's ****ed that certain people get special treatment because of circumstances that were never in their control.

But amidst all of it and the deaths that resulted, things being as they are, what can one do to so that the horrible choices we made amount to something good at the end of the day?

It's not, by any means, a rosy picture this movie paints, and while it absolutely excels it's depiction of violence, for better or for worse, I think the real touchstone are all the little moments of human fallibility that intermingle with it all:

War crimes committed out of impulse,
tunnel vision from the senses being overwhelmed,
being seized with fear and unable to do what needs to be done,
and the high of life-or-death adrenaline coming to a crushing stop as the traumatic realization of what just happened floods you with grief.

The characters in this movie make mistakes. Deadly mistakes. But they all make sense, they're mistakes anyone could conceivably make, and in the end they should be considered in the context of not just what was lost, but also in what was preserved or achieved. It's not always worth it, but it may be all you have left.

The cast was excellent, and I do believe star-studded in retrospect. I even recognized a number of faces I didn't remember were ever in this movie like Vin Diesel.

The editing really takes the cake here as it I feel like it appropriately shifted tones and adjusted it's pace where necessary to compliment the mood of any given moment. We have moments of shellshock where background noise is repressed to telegraph the characters' tunnel vision, we even downshift the framerate to communicate moments where things are unfolding imperceptibly fast, and multiple times the viewer is grounded in an expectation only to be rugpulled with a surprise.

If there was any CG in this movie it was probably limited entirely to aircraft or matte paintings because the practical effects are top-tier and on full display. Blood is present and appears to flow realistically from wounds (as opposed to spurting everywhere like a horror movie), the sets look real, the costumes look real, the weapons look real, and no punches are pulled when it comes to showing casualties, whether we're talking about the main cast or the supporting cast.

It's already so well-known it's been parodied, but the "knife scene" is still incredibly difficult to watch. It's just an all-too-intimate view into someone slowing dying an incredibly painful death and in a way that's too easy to imagine. It's the one scene you just don't want to experience again, but you know you're signing up for it when you watch this movie.

We get solid payoffs to foreshadowing, it's engaging to watch the resourcefulness of the characters, and the entire movie, even it's moments of tension release, are just short enough to keep my attention because it all still ultimately relates to prospective deaths of these characters, the losses they've suffered, and the possible futility of their hopes that it wasn't all in vain.

There's still a lot that can be said about it, but it's doubtlessly been said before, and to a much more exhaustive degree than I ever could.

Other than my personal discomfort with the knife scene, I think only two brief moments out of the whole movie could have been done better: 1.) is Matt Damon whinging in the fetal position at the end of the movie, (that just seemed out of character and unintentionally silly) and 2.) the moment where the squad is sharing looks with Capt. Hanks because his hand is shaking even after he looks down and realizes what's causing the stares, he looks back at them and makes what was meant to be a genuinely awkward but heartfelt moment an unintentionally funny moment. That one extra exchange of looks just ruin the whole moment for me.

Overall, I can easily say I like this movie, because it's an excellently produced experience with a lot of heart... BUT it's hard for me to say that I enjoyed it to a truly exceptional degree because of how brutal and somber the experience is.

It's sort of like Durak in that sense, where I really appreciate what it was trying to do, but I can't honestly say that I "had a great time" by the end of it, since the actual content of the film is largely crafted with the purpose of bringing the audience into a horrible situation.

So I can't really call it a favorite, but it gets mad props from me.

Final Verdict:
[Pretty Good]