BP’s Top 100 Challenge #39: Saving Private Ryan, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
The first time I saw Saving Private Ryan was days after I came back from a trip to France with my high school French class. I had visited the American and German cemeteries in Normandy as well as walked on the beaches and surrounding battlefields. It was an impactful experience to see how that battle had left the land scarred and pockmarked over fifty years later. So my mom, my best friend and I rented Saving Private Ryan from the video store, ordered Chinese food, and sat down to watch the film and eat dinner. Needless to say, very little Chinese food was consumed in the first twenty minutes or so of the film. It was a surreal experience to see a few of the places I had just walked on screen and it made my first viewing of Saving Private Ryan special.
Watching the film again, I couldn’t help but think about my grandfathers who were both World War II veterans and who have both passed. Neither fought in the European theater of war but one lost one of his brothers in the war and I couldn’t help but connect those dots with the story on screen. It hit me harder than I expected watching Saving Private Ryan and I couldn’t help but cry most of the way through the film. I think that is a powerful thing to say about a film that it can touch you in a way that makes you laugh or cry.
I have always been a Steven Spielberg fan and Saving Private Ryan is one of his best. He brings to life on screen the horror, heroism, and hardships of war. He balances the lighter moments, with the heavy and tragic moments to make an incredibly effective film. It also helps that the cast is incredible. Hanks brings heart and charisma to Captain Miller. The thing with his hand shaking throughout the film as well as the mystery about what he does and where he is from back home give him humanity and appeal. The other members of his platoon add humanity and realism to the story. They all realize the importance of their mission but they are also understandably pissed off about risking their lives so one man can go home. Equally the look on Matt Damon’s face when he learns that all his brothers are dead is devastating and no one envies him in that moment.
The war photography is intense and at times gruesome. Spielberg’s long-time cinematographer Janusz Kaminski drops you right into the frontlines and won’t let you look away. The opening battle scene on the beaches of Normandy is harrowing but the rest of the battle scenes throughout the film are powerfully intense and immersive. But I like that the film doesn’t lack a sense of humor. There is a scene in a small French village when Miller’s group meets Sargent Hill, played Paul Giamatti, and he sits down to take off his shoes and knocks down a wall revealing a room full of German soldiers. There is an intense standoff that follows but it is a really funny moment, as are some of the stories they tell on their journey across France.
Despite my disproportionally emotional response to this film, I really enjoyed watching it again. I am a big fan of war movies in general and Saving Private Ryan is a wonderful entry into the genre. I used the word “effective” earlier and that is the best way to sum up this film; it is effective from start to finish.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Saving Private Ryan ranking: Carrier