Saving Private Ryan Review: The film is a powerful experience

The soldiers assigned to find Pvt. Ryan and bring him home can do the math for themselves. The Army Chief of Staff has ordered them on the mission for propaganda purposes: Ryan’s return will boost morale on the homefront. And put a human face on the carnage at Omaha Beach. His mother, who has already lost three sons in the war, will not have to add another telegram to her collection. But the eight men on the mission also have parents–and besides. So they’ve been train to kill Germans, not to risk their lives for publicity stunts. “This Ryan better be worth it,” one of the men grumbles.

Based on the story of Frederic Niland, who was pulled out of frontline duty after his mother had received three MIA telegrams on the same day regarding his brothers. This is based on that mission – to find and rescue Private Ryan in the midst of the French landings.

Bookended by the most shocking, searing battle sequences in film history. So Saving Private Ryan (Giai Cuu Binh Nhi Ryan) is as powerful, devastating, memorable and moving as movies get. Steven Spielberg’s riveting infantryman’s-eye-view of World War II will change the way war movies are perceived. Hymns to brazen heroism and gung ho guts’n’glory will be impossible, impertinent even, in its wake. Going far beyond simplistic War Is Hell platitudes. Never before has the fear and flux of fighting been so vividly realise on celluloid.

Eschewing the niceties of character introduction. So we are thrown headfirst into the US D-day assault on Omaha beach through the eyes of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks). With consummate skill – frenetic editing deftly mixes film stocks, desaturated colour and handheld, often speeded-up, footage – Spielberg piles image upon image to evoke the gut-wrenching, rapid fire tumult of conflict: GI’s vomit over the side of the landing craft; bullets rip quietly into bodies flailing underwater; a soldier searches for his severed forearm.

Yet, for all the bravura cinematic virtuosity, this is by no means an exhilarating spectacle – subsumed by the sickening minutiae of combat, the overriding effect is exhausting, numbing visual viscera that leaves you shaken to your very core.

Accompanying Miller on the unorthodox mission is a squad of loyal but disappointingly monochromatic characters. There’s the always-at-the-ready sergeant (Tom Sizemore), the wisecracking New Yorker (Edward Burns). The tough but tender Italian (Vin Diesel), the Jewish kid with an agenda (Adam Goldberg), the sympathetic medic (Giovanni Ribisi), the Bible-quoting sharp-shooter (Barry Pepper) and the freshly recruited, wet-behind-the-ears interpreter (Jeremy Davis). Who has barely held a gun, let alone fired one.

“Saving Private Ryan” is a powerful experience. I’m sure a lot of people will weep during it. Spielberg knows how to make audiences weep better than any director since Chaplin in “City Lights”. But weeping is an incomplete response, letting the audience off the hook. This film embodies ideas. After the immediate experience begins to fade, the implications remain and grow.

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