Review: Saving Private Ryan (1998)


“He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.”
– Captain Miller

American soldiers prepare to land on Omaha Beach. The landing is catastrophic, and soldiers are killed in earnest in the landing. The Germans are waiting for them, and as the US soldiers are practically led to slaughter, Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks), the company commander of the Charlie Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion, gathers all able-bodied soldiers he can. With his new group he launches an assault on the German defenses, and soon emerges victorious. In the midst of all of this happening in Normandy, back at Washington D.C. General George Marshall (Harve Presnell) learns that three of four brothers of the Ryan family are deceased, and that Private First Class James Francis Ryan of Baker Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division is still out there somewhere, though whether dead or alive is unknown. Ryan’s mother is to receive all the terrible news in one day, and General Marshall decides then that a group will be dispatched to bring Private Ryan home.

The ghastly beach landings

Captain Miller is given the task of recovering the young Private Ryan, and gathers men he trusts to take out with him. Sergeant Michael Horvath (Tom Sizemore), Private Richard Reiben (Edward Burns), a great sniper by the name of Private Daniel Jackson (Barry Pepper), a Jewish Private Stanley Mellish (Adam Goldberg), Private Adrien Caparzo (Vin Diesel) and T-4 Medic Irwin Wade (Giovanni Ribisi). In need of a new translator, he picks up Corporal Timothy E. Upham (Jeremy Davies), a nervous young man who has never actually been out in the field. Together they set out across the foreign country with no real idea about Private Ryan’s whereabouts.

Sniper Private Daniel Jackson saving private ryan
“Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.” – Private Jackson

The soldiers seem to feel that is is a ludicrous request to send all these men out to recover one man. Other lives are at risk to save but one? They don’t get it, but orders are orders. However, during the course of the journey, they move through warring districts, lose men and contempt and contention breaks out. Captain Miller is supposed to lead them, to keep them in line, but slowly but surely an angry Reiben starts cracking the foundations of the group. He does not want to die for one man. Captain Miller is an enigma to the soldiers – nobody knows anything about him, and he seems content to keep it as such. The search for Private Ryan seems to be fruitless, as they have yet to find either the man or his tags. Neither seems forthcoming. Ready to give up, a friend of Private Ryan comes forward and tells the group that he is defending a bridge in Ramelle.

“It doesn’t make any sense, sir. Why? Why do I deserve to go?” – Private Ryan

Upon reaching Ramelle, they break the news to Private Ryan (Matt Damon). The soldiers are ready to leave having completed the mission, but Ryan refuses to go. This makes the situation awkward, and arguments break out as to what needs to be done. Their task was to bring him in, but he will not. He has a duty to the United States government, and seems intent on carrying it out. Will the soldiers be able to get their home passes by sending Ryan back to his mother, or will they go back empty handed, angered at their dire losses suffered for one man?

Saving Private Ryan earns a solid 9/10. This movie was a gem. The opening scenes of the beach landings in Normandy are just so beautifully done, though extremely heart wrenching. That aspect of this film should not be underplayed or under-appreciated at all. The story that is told is a great one, and this movie shows a look at soldiers and all the difficult things that they went through. Tom Hanks delivered a solid performance here, and should not be overlooked. Saving Private Ryan was excellent on so many fronts I don’t really know how to describe it all. All I know is that the movie never fails to blow me away. It looks at how men of all cultures, backgrounds and professions joined a war to fight for their country, yet ceaselessly dreamed about going home to their loved ones, ever afraid that they would not go back. Watching Captain Miller make impossible decisions and maintain his composure around his company is so sad, and tells you of his character. The seemingly fruitless march across foreign soil to recover one soldier seems fantastical, yet respect is due the soldiers that undertook to trek across to find this man and return him to his mother. This seems to be an incredibly realistic rendition of wartime conditions (I do not know and do not plan to find out about it). It is so sad to see how these men rely on each other with their lives yet are too scared to get to know the others too well due to the uncertainty of situation. There was humour in the film, but real dark, though still enjoyable, until things get dramatic. When the turn comes you are very in with the drama side again. Exceptionally well cast (even with Vin Diesel, he was really not that bad in this) and brilliantly put together and a wonderful backdrop to play the story out on, I loved this movie, and think that everyone should watch it at least once! I know it is an emotional and heavy film, but it is definitely worth looking into, and remains solidly on my watch list.

36 thoughts on “Review: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

  1. Great read and it reminds me of the first time I watched this movie. Reading this review brings me back…. even if Vin Diesel is there.

    It is insane this didn’t win best picture!


  2. 100% agree. VERY strong film that gets you right in the gut. The beginning I devastating and brutal but as you said, its supposed to be a pretty real depiction. The end gets me every time as well. Just a really good movie.


  3. I remember catching this at a preview, and we had to sit in the front row, as we got there late. That was a nightmare opening sequence to experience like that. You capture the unfolding mood well in your narrative.


  4. Glad you liked it Zoë. This is my favorite war film I think. If you liked this you should check out the mini series Band of Brothers which has the exact look and feel as Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender are in it. Not to mention Ross from friends.


    1. It really was an amazing one. I think I am with you on it being a favourite! Blows my mind every time! Hmmm, I will definitely be on it then, let me see what I can do. Sounds like a pretty good cast!


  5. I have a post coming out soon where I briefly poke fun at people like me who give things “perfect scores” – you know – like 10 out of 10 or five out of five because there’s probably no such thing as :the perfect movie” – except for this : )

    Great work!!


      1. I have only ever given one, and that is after I watched the film a million times in my life and the feeling still hasn’t changed, so in my eyes it is cinematic perfection. Which two films did you score so gloriously?


      2. Alright, my one and only perfect scored film was not done so easily, but The Dark Knight. I watched it over and over and it never ceased to impress me, and I get overly excited every time I think of watching it. The acting was superb, dialogue great, villain phenomenal, the score fit the whole way through… I had to give in to it eventually… 😀

        But now seriously, your two big ones?!


      3. Well last year I gave it to The Dark Knight Rises, I watched again recently and I stick by it 😀

        And The Avengers, seeing a superhero team up like that makes a comic nerd very happy 😀


    1. Thanks Chris! I get so sad every time that I watch this movie, I must admit, but I cannot resist checking it out. It is an absolutely phenomenal movie, and everything is so well executed!


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