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Saving Private Ryan

September 9, 2010

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon

Synopsis: After three brothers from the same family are all killed at WW2, the US sends a crack team (led by Tom Hanks) to pull the remaining Ryan brother (Matt Damon) out.

Review: Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is an odious and borderline distasteful snapshot of the Second World War, with its D-Day tour de force opening and subsequent military set-pieces seeking to sentimentalise the experience of war, rather than transcend it. In many ways, Spielberg’s rhetoric is grossly right-wing – dovetailing the action with portentous shots of the US flag, and locating the grieving Mother Ryan’s homestead in a mythic prairie-like location, to emphasise what America is defending. The pulverising Omaha Beach sequence may seem like a convincing exposé of the cruelty of war, but there is nothing artful or reflective about the treatment, with Spielberg more interested in the scene’s technical bravura and awe, than in its spiritual end-effect. Soon Tom Hanks’ squadron are up off the beach, and out on their mission, with just about every war movie cliché ready to be mined over the remaining two hours. Compare Saving Private Ryan to Terrence Malick’s Second World War opus that was released at the same time, The Thin Red Line, and one can see how Malick’s film was a sustained and poetic thesis on the inhumanity of war, while Spielberg’s effort was just another mawkish ‘boys own’ war story, notable only for finding more realistic ways of representing how warfare took place. I certainly know which one I found most moving. (February 2010)

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