I’m a huge fan of Second World War era movies, and one of my favourite ones, although quite clichéd by now, is Saving Private Ryan. Named the best war film ever in a poll of movie fans in 2009, the Steven Spielberg film is far from perfect, with a near-perfect start, a somewhat rocky middle section and an overly sentimental ending. However, it has all the markings of a genuine modern war epic.
The opening sequence, lasting for 27 minutes, is a tour de force, depicting the assault on Omaha Beach on June 6th of 1944 in manner that rivals the graphic content of any authentic war footage. I still remember, how, on my first time watching it, I was confronted with the chaos that the soldiers had to face on that hellish beach, when a soldier in the movie had his arm blown away. He staggered, shocked, exposed to more fire, and then he collected his arm, for he would need it later. There aren’t many filmmakers who would dare go as far as Spielberg did with this particular scene. It was a scene that made audiences truly uncomfortable, and was a supremely fitting tribute to the brave troops who paid the ultimate price for freedom that day.
When the initial fighting has died down, a moving score produced by John William accompanies a spectacle of the carnage, as we observe the name ‘Ryan S’ on a dead soldier’s gear. This dead man is the third son of Mrs Ryan of Iowa, and two of his siblings have also lost their lives in the same bloody conflict. The scene where she is informed of this terrible news was hauntingly poignant.
It is decided by Gen. George C Marshall, that the fourth brother, Pvt. James Frances Ryan, who got scattered with 101st Airborne Division on the night before D-Day, has to be brought home to his mother safe and sound. And to this end, Captain John H. Miller, played to perfection by Tom Hanks, is given the task of leading a small rescue team through enemy territory to make contact with, and bring back, Private Ryan, portrayed by Matt Damon.
After this, the movie becomes a typical rescue mission affair but Tom Hanks plays the role of a decent man coming to grips with the horror and chaos of war sublimely. A supporting character that I admired a lot was Private Daniel Jackson, a crack sniper who uses his M1903A4 Springfield Rifle to great effect throughout the move. This single character was responsible for developing my interest in guns in general and sniper rifles in particular. An excellent site I follow on guns and gunsmithing is www.gungods.net, you should check it out.
The film climaxes with a last stand in the town of Ramelle, where Miller’s squad is hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. It is a visceral film in its totality, but also manages to deliver a message of hope. When Miller says, ‘Earn it’ to Private Ryan in one scene, it seemed like Spielberg himself was actually addressing the audience.
Even to this day, there are parts of this movie which send chills down my spine due to the sheer brutality of what they show. And that, I believe, is the mark of a movie that will stay evergreen.