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(1998) (Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore) (R)

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Drama/Action: A small platoon of WWII soldiers goes behind enemy lines to find and retrieve a missing paratrooper who's been ordered home because his three brothers have already been killed in the war.
After surviving the massive American D-day assault on the beaches of Normandy, Captain John Miller (TOM HANKS) is given a new assignment. Three brothers of the Ryan family from Iowa have already been killed in the war, and the fourth, Private James Ryan, is somewhere behind enemy lines. To avoid a public relations fiasco, the Army orders that Ryan be found and returned safely to his native shores.

To do so, Miller and his faithful right-hand man, Sergeant Horvath (TOM SIZEMORE), must take their small platoon of eight men behind German lines and try to find Ryan, a near impossible task since he might be anywhere and could possibly even be dead. Joining them are Private Reiben (EDWARD BURNS), a sarcastic Brooklyn naysayer, Corporal Upham (JEREMY DAVIES), a military translator who's scared finally to go into combat, Private Jackson (BARRY PEPPER), the sharpshooter, along with Privates Mellish (ADAM GOLDBERG), Caparzo (VIN DIESEL), and medic Wade (GIOVANNI RIBISI).

As the men make their way deeper into German held territory and encounter varying levels of resistance, they ponder whether their or others' lives are worth the risks being taken to find and save Private Ryan, a young man they don't even know.

Younger kids won't, but older teens just might, especially if they're fans of director Steven Spielberg, lead actor Tom Hanks, or of realistic war/historical movies.
For intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, and for language.
  • TOM HANKS plays the captain of the platoon, a reserved man who doesn't want to be there, but usually does what he must to ensure that he returns home safely to his wife.
  • TOM SIZEMORE plays the Captain's trusted right-hand man who nearly shoots one of the platoon's men who's preparing to abandon the mission.
  • EDWARD BURNS plays a sarcastic naysayer who doesn't believe in this mission and the lives it puts at risk.
  • JEREMY DAVIES plays a military translator who's scared to death of being in combat, and who tries to befriend a captured enemy soldier.
  • MATT DAMON plays the missing paratrooper who learns that his three brothers have been killed and wants to stay with his unit instead of returning home.


    OUR TAKE: 9 out of 10
    Director Steven Spielberg has helmed some of the best and most famous movies of all time in the past three decades. Early in his career, he's entertained us with "fun," but not what could be considered "serious" films that ranged from menacing sharks and friendly aliens to adventurous archeologists. While he's occasionally dabbled in that sort of cinema recently with the "Jurassic" films, he appears to be taking his "other" career -- of helming more adult-oriented and serious fare -- more seriously. "Schindler's List clearly demonstrated that and finally won him the coveted award (an Oscar) that eluded him for so long during his entire career.

    He might have to make more room on his award shelve after the release of his latest masterpiece, "Saving Private Ryan." A harrowing, gripping, and disturbing look at war and heroism set in a fictitious WWII story, Spielberg has delivered an incredible piece of work. Much like his Oscar winning "Schindler's List," however, this isn't what one would call an entertaining film for it's too realistic and disturbing to really be "enjoyed." That being the case, it's only one of a few minor complaints that can be raised against this picture.

    The "last great war" -- as WWII is often called -- has been used countless times as a backdrop or focal point of movies ever since it ended more than half a century ago, but none have portrayed it as realistically as is done here. Not only do you see the horrors and atrocities -- along with the pain, suffering, and realistically gory deaths that permeated that (and every other) war -- but Spielberg has effectively managed to take the entire audience and dump them right into the middle of it all.

    Accordingly, we're no longer voyeurs and the war isn't sanitized as it's been in nearly every film ever made about the subject. Instead, we're suddenly transported onto the beaches of Normandy -- and later a fictitious town under siege -- in such an overwhelmingly realistic fashion that you'll feel that you were there. You definitely won't forget this movie and its horrific scenes for a long, long time after seeing it.

    This is Spielberg's fourth film to portray the war -- the others being the over-the-top comedy, "1941," the P.O.W. story, "Empire of the Sun" (one of the director's most underrated films), and of course, "Schindler's List" -- and is arguably the best. Although the main plot is fictionalized, it is based on several families that lost numerous sons during the war and the subsequent efforts to prevent that from ever happening again.

    While such material would seem perfect to bring out Spielberg's only great and occasionally observed flaw -- his ability to manipulate the audience in a manner that's occasionally too obvious -- none of that is evident here. Unlike "Amistad" where such grandiose moments stood out like sore thumbs, every moment of this film feels perfect. Nothing seems manufactured to purposefully tweak the audience, and even the few stereotypical war moments -- including the guys sitting around discussing things during quiet times -- seem perfectly congruous with the overall picture.

    Not even the appearance of some well known, but questionably cast performers in cameo parts (for a movie like this) can knock this locomotive from its tracks. Upon seeing Ted Danson (Sam on TV's "Cheers"), one initially gets that "Oh no, it's going to be cast like an old disaster movie with name actors, but Danson delivers a believable, albeit brief performance, as does the always fun to watch Dennis Farina ("Get Shorty," "Out of Sight").

    Of course the main attraction here is Tom Hanks ("Philadelphia," "Forrest Gump"), the most beloved and favorite actor of recent, and he does anything here but disappoint in this role. Having already "served" some time in war scenes in "Gump," Hanks is easy to accept as the civilian soldier, but he goes way beyond that. Creating a troubled and complex character, Hanks easily makes Miller sympathetic, but he also gives him enough edgy qualities to keep the audience on its collective toes. Don't be surprised to see Hanks receiving yet another Oscar nomination for his fine performance.

    Also very good -- and given an outside shot at a best supporting actor nod -- is actor Tom Sizemore who plays Sergeant Horvath, Hanks' right-hand man. Audiences have seen Sizemore for years in the movies ("The Relic," "Heat") playing varying parts, but this is clearly his strongest performance to date.

    Filmmaker and actor Edward Burns ("The Brothers McMullen," "She's The One") is also surprisingly decent (since his track record consists of only appearing in his own romantic comedies), as is Anthony Perkins look-alike Jeremy Davies ("The Locusts," "Going All The Way"), although his character is often maddeningly irritating (on purpose, and as written). The rest of the performances are also quite good, including Matt Damon ("Good Will Hunting," "The Rainmaker") as the title character who finally shows up for the last quarter of the movie.

    Easily managing to balance the glorification of the soldiers while denouncing this and other wars, Spielberg creates a compelling drama that continually rides on the question of whether "the good of the one outweighs the good of the many." In doing so, screenwriter Robert Rodat has strayed far from his former kid-based material (including "Fly Away Home" and "Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill"), but still manages to deliver a clean, concise, and completely believable script.

    Technical credits are outstanding across the board. With most of the war scenes being shot with simultaneously rolling cameras (from varying angles), four time Oscar nominee Michael Kahn (with victories for "Schindler's List" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark") had his work cut out for him (no editing pun intended), but does a fabulous job and should receive another nomination for his work here.

    The same holds true for composer John Williams (a five-time Oscar winner) whose score is one of his best in years, as well as cinematographer and two-time Oscar nominee Janusz Kaminski ("Schindler's List," "Amistad") who not only has filmed the most impressive battle scenes ever captured on celluloid, but some nicely done, quieter moments as well. A scene that transitions from a field of present day cemetery crosses to the buried barricades in the sand at Omaha Beach (actually an Irish shoreline used as a stand in) is tremendously presented as is nearly every other scene he and Spielberg have fashioned.

    Kudos should also go out to production designer Tom Sanders and his crew for designing (and then destroying) the fictitious town of Ramelle, as well as to the entire special effects team for creating a host of effects that -- like the best of them -- are seamless and don't draw attention to themselves (meaning the injuries and warfare look so realistic that you'd believe it was all true if you didn't know better).

    Combining the efforts of his terrifically talented cast and crew, Spielberg has delivered an amazing and impressive film. From the nicely choreographed "bookend" scenes set in the present day, to the utterly incredible -- and reportedly extremely faithful -- twenty some minute reenactment of the D-day invasion, this picture is awe-inspiring throughout its nearly three-hour duration.

    Of course a few critics might dredge up some complaints about the movie -- a few of which are partially valid. Some may complain that the movie is far too intense, disturbingly violent and graphic. While that's true and there are only a few brief moments of comic relief to take a tiny edge off the material, war truly is hell and Spielberg's goal was to show it the way it was -- and he succeeds. There are no testosterone filled heroes in this film -- just a bunch of guys, many of them quite young -- who are tired, scared and both emotionally and psychologically scarred by their experiences.

    Others may say that the movie is amazing, but that the glowing accolades (which will come -- trust me) are too far reaching and that the characters aren't that well developed as in say, "Schindler's List" to allow this movie to rank up there with that highly acclaimed film. There is a little truth to that, but quite often performances that are underplayed and understated are the best ones, and Hanks and company deliver some of the best of the year.

    While films that open in the summer often face tough odds when it comes around to Oscar nomination time ("Forrest Gump" being a recent exception), it's doubtful any of the Academy members -- or for that matter critics or the general public -- will forget this film for a long time. Arguably the best movie Steven Spielberg has ever made, this is a powerful, disturbing, and awe- inspiring look at war. We give "Saving Private Ryan" a 9 out of 10.

    Many have argued that this film should have received an NC-17 rating instead of its R due to the extremely graphic nature of the war violence and its aftermath. While that's debatable, you should know that this is probably going to the one of (if not the) goriest and most violent films you'll ever see. It's incredibly graphic in its depiction of war-related injuries and deaths, and many scenes may be too intense or stomach-turning for many viewers -- regardless of their age.

    In addition, the several battle scenes that occur are incredibly suspenseful in their realism, and their long, seemingly nonstop duration may also be too much for some viewers. Needless to say, this isn't for the feint-hearted, but is an excellent teaching tool to those who've never experienced such horrors (myself included), and should be required viewing for teens who think they're immortal and that violence is what they see on TV and in most unrealistically portrayed movies.

    Beyond that, profanity is extreme with 20 "f" words and an assortment of others (often said during the heat of the battle or other related stress). Other than some brief and rather mild stories relating to some prewar sexually related material, as well as everything else related to the war, the remaining categories have little or no objectionable content in them. Nonetheless, I cannot stress strongly enough how brutally graphic this film is. We strongly advise viewer discretion.

  • A great deal of morphine is given to a wounded soldier in the field.
  • The following lists much of the graphic material that occurs in the film, but certainly not all of it (because there's too much to note). Even so, it should give you a clear understanding of the severe graphic nature of the material.
  • We see (and hear) some soldiers vomiting from fear as they prepare to storm the beaches at Normandy.
  • As the American troops storm the beaches at Normandy, they're met by mortar and machine gun fire that instantly kills and injures many of them. Most of the wounds are extremely bloody and gory. During this twenty some minute scene, we see bullets realistically hitting bodies (along with squishy-sounding effects), including some hit underwater where blood then quickly floats from their bodies. We also see people's limbs blown off (with lots of blood), a man picking up his dismembered arm from the ground, the surf that rolls onto the shores is tainted red, and Miller has some blood on his face.
  • We also fully see a man's intestines that have been blown out and onto his body (along with the man screaming in agony), another man whose entire lower half of his body is missing, and another who has a hole where his face use to be.
  • We see blood squirting out of a man's wound, and another man gets hit in the head with a bullet, and many, many other instances of graphic wounds.
  • After the skirmish, the surf is again tainted red and we see many bodies on the beach.
  • A man is shot by a sniper and his blood spills out onto the ground around him.
  • A sniper is shot in the eye by another sniper and we see the bloody bullet hole in his eye.
  • More people who are shot are bloody.
  • Miller and his team come across some bodies that are discolored from having been dead for a while.
  • One of Miller's team is shot and we see him lying on the ground with several bullet holes in his torso. While others attempt to wipe away the blood, it quickly oozes out from the holes and there's blood in his mouth. We see this for several minutes, along with the dead and bloody Germans.
  • We briefly see a man get decapitated in another long battle sequence that shows many more bloody wounds including a man being blown up by an explosive. During one, an unseen man is shot and blood spills out over a floor. Another is then shot in the neck and we see even more blood. We also see a knife slowly pushed into another man's chest, killing him.
  • Obviously, the German soldiers are portrayed as having extreme cases of both, as is expected in a war movie, and the intent of nearly all of the soldiers is obviously to kill the enemy.
  • Some American soldiers shoot some Germans who have surrendered.
  • Some may see Miller's choice to take on a German stronghold instead of going around it (and continuing with their ordered mission) as having some of both.
  • Some may see Corporal Upham's befriending a German soldier and later freezing in the heat of a battle as having some of both (especially since such moments lead to others' deaths).
  • Some may see Private Reiben's naysayer attitude toward Miller and his command as having both.
  • The entire twenty some minute opening sequence where the American troops storm the beaches of Normandy is extremely tense as many are wounded or killed, while the survivors inch their way toward the German fortresses and more fighting occurs there. The sight of the mangled dead and the screaming wounded, along with more realistic gore than in nearly any horror movie, will be unsettling -- if not extremely disturbing -- to nearly everyone who sees this film.
  • Miller and his small platoon arrive in a bombed out town where they encounter a sniper who shoots one of their men and pins down the rest (in another long scene).
  • There's a brief gun pointing stand off between Miller's men and some German soldiers who suddenly find themselves exposed.
  • Miller and his team attempt to race up a hill and take out some German soldiers in another long sequence that involves them trying to save a fatally wounded man.
  • Some of Miller's men prepare to shoot a German soldier that they've captured.
  • Sergeant Horvath prepares to shoot another soldier who's preparing to leave their assignment.
  • Miller, Ryan, and the rest of the Americans prepare to do battle with advancing German forces in another very long sequence where they attack the Germans and then must run and hide before attacking again and again. During this, many are killed in some suspenseful scenes, including a hand to hand combat fight where two men struggle over a knife.
  • Rifles/Machine Guns/Grenades/Knives/Tanks/Fighter planes: Used to threaten, wound, or kill many people.
  • Phrases: "FUBAR" (F*cked Up Beyond All Recognition), "Smart ass," "Drop dead," "Nuts" (crazy), "Moron," "Guineas," "Shut up," and "Hard on" (sexual).
  • Some soldiers suddenly pop out from behind a vehicle and startle Miller's team (and some in the audience).
  • Moviegoers may be startled when certain characters are suddenly shot and killed.
  • A mild amount of suspenseful music occurs in only a few scenes.
  • None.
  • Due to some of the profanity occurring during the extremely loud fighting scenes, the following should be considered a minimum.
  • At least 20 "f" words, 12 "s" words, 3 slang terms using male genitals ("pr*ck" and "c*cksucker"), 17 hells, 10 S.O.B.'s, 8 asses (2 used with "hole"), 4 damns, 1 crap, and 12 uses of "G-damn," 3 of "Jesus," and 2 each of "Oh my God" and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • Around ten or so uses of "FUBAR" (F*cked Up Beyond All Recognition) also occur during the movie.
  • Private Reiben tells a prewar story about seeing an extremely large breasted woman trying on some clothes (that were too small) in his mother's store. He then comments that she noticed that he had a "hard on," and that the woman told him to calm down, and that if he ever got scared during the war, that he should close his eyes "and think of these" (as Reiben gestures holding up some large breasts).
  • Private Ryan tells a story about his brother being with a woman before heading off to the war. He says that he had her shirt off and was trying to undo her bra when his brothers shouted out for him not to do it (and the story ends there).
  • A soldier puts chewing tobacco in his mouth.
  • Several soldiers occasionally smoke during the movie, such as Reiben who smokes a few cigars and Upham who shares a smoke with a captured German soldier.
  • Mrs. Ryan gets word that her three sons have been killed in action (we only briefly see her grief).
  • Private Ryan learns that his brothers have been killed in the war.
  • Miller and his troops briefly encounter a local family that's been traumatized by the fighting and tries to make the soldiers take their daughter with them (and she screams and cries in fright).
  • The real life story of the D-day invasion at Normandy, the rest of WWII, and the sacrifice paid by all who died in this, and other wars.
  • Whether the needs of the one ever outweigh the needs of the many.
  • That the film does portray violence very realistically compared with violence commonly seen in other Hollywood films.
  • As the American troops storm the beaches at Normandy, they're met by mortar and machine gun fire that instantly injures and kills many of them in extremely graphic, gory, and bloody ways (in a sequence that lasts more than twenty minutes and is much more realistic than ever portrayed on film before). Several other men during this catch on fire and are completely engulfed in flames. As the sequence progresses, more and more men are shot or blown up.
  • Eventually some of the Americans make their way up the beach where they shoot some Germans, as well as use hand grenades and flamethrowers on them (and consequently see more people on fire).
  • Later, a man is shot by a sniper, who in turn is shot by another sniper.
  • Machine gun fire mows down a roomful of German soldiers.
  • We learn that twenty-two men died in a plane crash (not seen).
  • German soldiers fire at Miller and his team as they race up a hill. Grenades are thrown back and forth and several people are killed and the Americans repeatedly strike a surviving German soldier.
  • An armored vehicle is hit and blows up and Miller's men shoot the Germans who try to escape from it.
  • In another very long fighting sequence, many people are shot and killed, while others are blown up by varying explosives. Some are also hit by Molotov cocktails that catch several German soldiers on fire, while another has a knife slowly driven into his chest, killing him. Tanks fire at other people, planes fire at them, a man is decapitated, many buildings are blown up, and a sniper shoots many people. In the end, not many people are left alive.

  • Reviewed July 14, 1998

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