Rated R - Running time: 2:49 - Released 7/24/98

After Steven Spielberg's Amistad was released last winter, many people (self included) were aghast that it was not nominated for Best Picture. But now he's got another chance. If Saving Private Ryan is not nominated this year, we will know something is definitely wrong. It is not only a touching story about two different kinds of brotherly love, but one of the most haunting representations of war I have ever seen. This film does for World War II what Platoon and The Deer Hunter did for Vietnam. It takes you there.

Right after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, it is learned by the war department that three brothers named Ryan have all been killed in action. Their mother is to receive all three telegrams in the same day. But there is a fourth brother, Private James Ryan, a paratrooper down behind enemy lines, and a mission is devised to find him and send him home, whatever the cost. Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is assigned the task of locating Pvt. Ryan and giving him the news. He assembles 6 of his men, all of whom survived the bloody invasion, and a young corporal named Upham (Jeremy Davies), who has never seen action but speaks fluent French and German, and they set out on their search through occupied France.

The mission is very just and honorable, but to these men, who barely survived the carnage at Normandy, it seems overly risky. Why, they wonder, should they travel into extremely dangerous territory, risking their eight lives, to save one private? Even Capt. Miller, who makes a point of not showing his feelings to his men, says, "This guy had better be worth it." Long before they have met the object of their search, the men develop an animosity for Ryan (Matt Damon), and when a few of them get killed on the way, tensions begin to run extremely high.

High tension is an apt description for this entire film. From the incredibly graphic opening sequence depicting the Normandy invasion, this movie grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you until you rattle. You feel the anxiety of those going headlong into the hail of bullets, the anguish of the wounded, the despair of the men who watch their comrades dying all around them. The hell that is war is depicted with absolutely no punches pulled. The Normandy scene by itself is a masterpiece. But Spielberg doesn't stop there.

The brutal message of this movie matches that of Schindler's List, and Janusz Kaminski's cinema is excellent, interspersing beautiful, sweeping long shots with the blood-soaked battle scenes. The script by Robert Rodat allows us to become one of the tightly knit squad, getting to know each of the eight men, and the use of handheld cameras during many action scenes adds to this adrenaline-pumping experience. The acting is superb by all involved; Hanks may well garner another Best Actor nomination for this, and Davies gives a sensitive portrayal of the outsider who must prove his courage, to himself and everyone else. Damon's part is not really very large, but what he does with it is exquisite. Believe it or not, he actually provides one of the film's few lighthearted moments. Other especially memorable performances are by Giovanni Ribisi as the medic who ultimately ends up treating himself, and Joerg Stadler, a German soldier the men take prisoner. Spielberg has again employed his long-time friend John Williams for the musical score, which is rich and poignant, another possible Oscar pick.

This is one of the best war movies I have ever seen, and yet it is also one of the most violent. It's the kind of film that causes nightmares in parents and flashbacks in veterans. I heartily recommend it to all with the warning that its imagery is profoundly disturbing. But that's how it should be. That is war. *****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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