Great WWII war action in France, but too much of the drama is weak
RELEASED IN 1998 and directed by Steven Spielberg, "Saving Private Ryan" (SPR) is about the Normandy invasion and its immediate aftermath from June 6-16, 1944. The focus is on a Captain (Tom Hanks) and his men who are commissioned to find a paratrooper (Matt Damon) whose brothers have been killed in action.
No one's supposed to say anything bad about SPR. To do so is considered sacrilege, but I have to be honest about what I like and don't like about Spielberg's popular WWII war flick. The initial beach landing (shot at Curracloe Beach, Ballinesker, Ireland) is outstanding, as is the closing half-hour battle at the crumbling village of Ramelle.
In between these two great bookends are a few quality sequences, but I didn't find a lot of the drama all that engaging or convincing. The cast is notable (also including Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Edward Burns, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, et al.), but the characters never struck me as real for the most part. I've seen the film three times and each time I was too often conscious of the fact that I was watching actors portraying WWII characters in a movie. When you see a truly great picture, by contrast, you completely forget you're watching a movie, e.g. the original "Apocalypse Now" (1979).
Moreover, too many of the situations in SPR, including the dialogue, simply struck me as unreal or annoyingly treacly. Exhibit A is the moronic dog-tag sequence, which was supposed to be emotionally stirring but just made me roll my eyes. But, like I said, no one can criticize SPR and get away with it, even if the criticism is legitimate. It's like you'll be accused of being un-American or something, which is far from the case with me since I love America; I just can't stand the corrupt government & politicians, particularly the loony DemonKKKraps.
In light of my criticisms, I simply don't get why so many praise SPR as "the greatest war movie ever made." Again, the opening and ending battle sequences are great but the dubious dramatics leave quite a bit to be desired.
I've heard SPR hailed on the grounds that much of it was taken "verbatim from first-hand, eye-witness accounts of the real Normandy invasion." I'll take their word for it, but this isn't what I object to. I object to the contrived, sappy, questionable way Spielberg depicted the dramatics and the fact that I was unable to buy the characters as real. The aforementioned dog-tag sequence is just one example, others include the French father’s stupefying actions and the forced fight at the radar station and how it’s resolved (ooh, the Captain’s a high school teacher, whoopee).
Nevertheless, there IS a lot of good in SPR that makes it worth viewing. You can’t beat the battle sequences, the cast and the convincing WWII visuals throughout.
THE MOVIE RUNS 2 hours, 49 minutes and was shot in Ireland, England and France. WRITER: Robert Rodat.