Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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Steven Spielberg’s multi-Oscar winning story of a squad of men sent to recover a soldier who was the sole surviving member of his siblings set a new standard in realism where it comes to representing the battlefield.

It gives a genuinely believable idea of what it must be like to be caught up in such a hellish environment where any hesitation or even the smallest act of mercy may cost you your life or the life of others, particularly during the visceral opening scenes. Unfortunately the rest of the film does not quite measure up to Spielberg’s consummate skill behind the camera. The script does mainly manage to avoid sentimentality but it also feels very sanitised. The other Allied forces are glaring in their absence, as are soldiers of other ethnicities and more often than not, profanity. This seriously damages the film’s authenticity. The decent cast are solid but unspectacular and I felt that considering the amount of time I’d spent in their company, I didn’t really feel I knew any of the characters particularly well. I did like the way it avoided glorification and showed both sides as men doing what they must to survive under terrible conditions, and it never shies away from showing the appalling cost in human life resulting from the conflict. On the down side, there’s the corny prologue and epilogue with the inevitable worthy speech/stars and stripes combo and worse yet, the irritatingly rousing score that’s about as subtle as a neon sign lighting up that says “BE MOVED NOW!”.

Saving Private Ryan is certainly worth seeing for the combat sequences, but I felt that The Thin Red Line offered a more complete package.

6.5/10

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