Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Robert Rodat
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston
After his three brothers died in combat, the U.S. Army wants to bring Private James Ryan (Damon) home. Now a small group of soldiers is making the dangerous trek into France in an attempt to find him.
This film was written by Robert Rodat (Fly Away Home), and directed by Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark). The film eventually earned eleven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The cast of this film features so many big names that it’s hard to make a list without leaving someone out. The stars include Tom Hanks (A League of Their Own), Matt Damon (The Martian), Tom Sizemore (Black Hawk Down), and Edward Burns (The Holday). The cast also features Barry Pepper (True Grit (2010)), Adam Goldberg (A Beautiful Mind), Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Giovanni Ribisi (The Other Sister). A few more notable names include Ted Danson (Hearts Beat Loud), Paul Giamatti (Straight Outta Compton), and Bryan Cranston (Isle of Dogs).
This story was crafted by Robert Rodat, and is (very) loosely based on the true story of the Niland brothers. The writing does a great job bringing the audience right into the thick of the action, specifically the invasion of Normandy. The action is intense, and works to set the tone for the way the characters behave. Rodat did an excellent job creating the ragtag bunch of soldiers that serve as the center of the film. The script introduces the characters and allows their interactions to reveal their personalities in small moments throughout the movie. The dialogue is sharp, and avoids the kind of campy chatter common in war movies. The little twists and turns keep the stakes in this film very high.
There are also some incredibly intense moments in the film that push the action to an uncomfortable level. The story balances the intense moments with some more thoughtful scenes that let the moments sink in. The payoffs in this film are powerful and well worth the wait. In addition to the plot, this movie also asks some very deep questions about war. This is done through the story and the dialogue without feeling too obvious. These questions allow the movie to hit higher emotional notes than it might otherwise have. For this script, Rodat would earn his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
This film features excellent performances from a long list of actors. It’s almost unfair to begin isolating individual performances without first acknowledging the incredible chemistry between the core group of actors. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, and Edward Burns create a unique collection of soldiers with a special bond. Their interactions elevate the material and give this film something special.
For the group to work, these actors all gave great individual performances. Tom Hanks was the perfect choice for his role in this film. His work seems to embody the heavy emotional toll of the war. He also creates the perfect leader for his ragtag bunch of soldiers. Tom Sizemore also does a great job in this one. He plays a salty character that feels like it was written for him. Giovanni Ribisi also does great work with a very emotionally driven performance. Adam Goldberg adds a unique performance of his own to this one. Barry Pepper seemed to bring out something different in his performance. There is something emotionally cold about his performance that really works. Edward Burns also adds a performance that seems to embody some of the anger and pessimism of the story. Individually, these stars all handle the difficult physical aspects of the film wonderfully.
Outside of this core group, there are also great performances from a number of other actors. Matt Damon gives a powerful performance in the title role of the film. He seemed to understand the dynamic between him and most of the cast, and he makes the most of it. His work is emotionally strong and really helps the film to pay off. Some of the other great performances in this one come from Bryan Cranston, Paul Giamatti, and Ted Danson. As previously stated, it’s hard to name everyone who did great work in this one. Tom Hanks received his recognition in the form of an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
This film features some of the most intense and realistic combat footage ever created. Steven Spielberg sought out cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List) to help him create a more honest version of combat. Their work creates a visual tone more like newsreel footage than a feature film. The camera work also does a great job bringing the audience into the middle of the action. Kaminski won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work. The film also won Michael Kahn (Jurassic Park) an Oscar for Best Film Editing. The visuals work to capture the intensity of battle with all of the blood and horror that comes with it. There is something almost panicked about the visuals during the battle scenes. The visual effects teams and makeup people did great work adding to these intense and powerful visuals. The film was also honored with Academy Award nominations for Best Makeup and Best Production Design.
This one also benefits from incredible sound work that helps to bring the realities of battle to life. The battle sequences are filled with sounds of terror, explosions, and gunfire. The movie would go on to win Oscars for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The movie also features a powerful score, composed by the legendary John Williams (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope). The music adds a nice highlight to the powerful emotions of the story. Williams would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score for his music in this one.
This is one of the best war films ever made. Spielberg and his team created a movie that tells an incredible story while living in the harsh reality of war. The performances are excellent, and the production work does all the right things. This is a very graphic film that tends to look directly at the horrors of combat and the tragedy of war. This might make it a tough film for some audiences, and it’s definitely not one for the kids. If you’re a fan of war movies, this is one you have hopefully seen. If not, make it a priority to check this one out. I would also suggest this to fans of the stars. The performances elevate the script, and give this one a lot of emotional depth. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.