Saving Private Ryan (1998) written by Robert Rodat, directed by Steve Spielberg

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

A new classic in the pantheon of war movies- particularly World War II movies. This is Spielberg’s magnum opus and no doubt the inspiration for the now classic mini-series Band of Brothers and the less successful follow up the Pacific. So why is Saving Private Ryan such an important film? The popularity of WW2 movies seemed to die out in the early 70s in favor of films about Vietnam. Spielberg has a vested interest in the preservation of WW2-era story telling because of his Jewish ancestry and deeply personal connection to the events of the Nazi-era, including his commitments to the SHOA foundation. Modern practical and special effects technology became advanced enough that you could convey war in realistic terms and visuals. CGI had advanced enough to allow for total submersion the melting of the fourth wall. Spielberg took great and full advantage of the new technology with Saving Private Ryan, giving us a visceral experience in telling a war story, the likes of which had never been seen before. For this reason Saving Private Ryan is as important a classic as All Quiet On the Western Front and many other war stories.
In many respects this is classic Spielberg, who has a penchant for casting unknown actors and keeping the heart of the story about lost boys without a good father figure. In Saving Private Ryan, Private James Ryan has lost all his brothers in the war and is his single mother’s only surviving son. The government has seen fit to send him home alive, by any means possible. It’s a standard Men on a Mission film in many respects. The strength of the writing is in how the characters feel like real people. These aren’t warriors- they’re school teachers, journeymen, writers, neighborhood tough guys, poetic souls and miscreants, all thrown into WW2 and suddenly corralled for what many could see as a mission that is a misallocation of vital Nazi fighting resources. Spielberg’s casting is exemplary, going for mostly unknown actors to make up the platoon, many of whom have gone on to the A-list (Vin Diesel) or have at the very least carved out well respect careers in their own right. The genius in Saving Private Ryan is that despite how massive the production is, it’s a very small story. A few men looking for one man and a final battle over an anonymous bridge in a small town, a battle that will prove meritless in the grand scheme of a war that had just begun for the Americans. It’s a gorgeous, haunting film that will remain ageless.

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