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  • Writer's pictureJeff South


Tom Hanks: Captain Miller

Tom Sizemore: Sergeant Horvath

Edward Burns: Private Reiben

Barry Pepper: Private Jackson

Adam Goldberg: Private Mellish

Vin Diesel: Private Caparzo

Giovanni Ribisi: T-4 Medic Wade

Jeremy Davies: Corporal Upham

Matt Damon: Private Ryan

Screenplay by Robert Rodat

Directed by Steven Spielberg

"This Ryan better be worth it."

War movies have always presented a challenge for me. The whole idea of war boggles my mind. That one group of people should decide that the only recourse for solving a problem, no matter how complex, is to kill the group representing the other side of the conflict doesn't compute with me. Or, that one group should decide it's necessary to attack another group. I possess a cognitive disconnect. I don't get it. War, to me, is fundamentally stupid. War movies are difficult because I admire and honor the sacrifices of those in harm's way, yet I don't want for one second feel I'm glorifying war. A dark, biting satire like M*A*S*H resonates with me because of this.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was the first war movie that forced me to look beyond my own personal viewpoints and really confront the sacrifices made during World War II. Yes, I had seen movies that depicted the horrors of war, especially PLATOON, THE DEER HUNTER, and FULL METAL JACKET, but those films were saying something specific about the Vietnam War. They were protest pictures. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN depicts the unspeakable violence of combat, starting with the relentless Omaha Beach scene, as well as the simple humanity of the men subjected to it. These aren't dashing war heroes. They were brought to the war, eager to fight the Nazis, from their normal lives.

After that brutal opening sequence, we get to know a ragtag bunch under the leadership of Captain Miller (Tom Hanks). They are given a unique mission. A Private Ryan must be found so he can be sent home. His mother has lost every son she has except him to the war. This is a publicity stunt designed to boost morale. Miller's men question the wisdom of penetrating deep into France, which is still held by the Germans. They weren't sent to Europe to save one guy. They came to kill Nazis. The film moves from one set piece to the next with little pontification about the war and what it all means.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is anchored by the Hanks performance, but it's Jeremy Davies' Corporal Upham, assigned to the group as a translator that is key. He is our window in the movie. In many ways, the movie is told from his point of view. He is innocent compared to the more seasoned soldiers and we share in his horror. Yet, like those same men, he is just an average man sent to carry out an unthinkable mission. His life stateside had not prepared him for this.

Roger Ebert wrote in his 4-star review of this movie that it "says things about war that are as complex and difficult as any essayist could possibly express, and does it with broad, strong images, with violence, with profanity, with action, with camaraderie." This movie has something significant and profound to say about war and the men who fight, but it does so without long speeches. I spent most of this movie more terrified than any horror movie I've seen.

My wife and I left SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in stunned, numbed silence. If memory serves, we didn't discuss it for several minutes. We needed to process what we had seen. Here was a war movie about the necessity of the mission and value of the lives who carry it out. I've seen dozens of movies that have had a profound impact on me. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN changed me.

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