Film Review: Saving Private Ryan

There can be no question that in Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg created a cinematic masterpiece and brought the horrors of war and the weakness of man to life with an almost uneasy and unwelcome beauty that resulted in allying the critics, public and my best mate with their praise and superlatives.

In fact, it has always been the “bench mark” war film for me, the movie against which I rank all others. In fact, it’s virtually impossible these days to see any war film come out of holiday that isn’t compared against it and in the case of Lone Survivor, it was even used as a marketing tool. That is the strength and universal acceptance of quality with which this film is held.

And, having finally been released on Blu-ray I jumped at the chance to upgrade my ownership and bring a new clarity to the film. However, sadly, Spielberg’s epic is just that, epic. It’s running time is pushes constantly on and due to it’s subject combines to result in a film that you need to plan to watch, you can’t just grab it off the shelf and stick it on. You need to be in the right mind and have enough time. That moment, came last night, and in the year we remember both the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, as well as, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the exact event around which this film centres, Saving Private Ryan suddenly appeared with a new, and slightly more poignant tone.

Stan Hollis - Saving Private Ryan

Unfortunately though, the film for me, no longer packed the punch it once did. I think it was a case that with everything that’s gone on over the last few months with the remembrance of the anniversaries, piled on top of the last decade and the wars within the middle east, as well as, the drip feeding social media world we now live in, have resulted in a diluting of war, and it’s horrors. We have become numb to it. It’s a daily routine, an acceptance. The normal. And that is not only shocking and saddening but also a poor reflection on the effects of modern society.

When Saving Private Ryan first came out in 1998, the reason it was rated so highly was that it brought the pain and suffering and torment of war to life. It made it real, it showed what the men who gave their lives to allow me to live mine free and with the luxuries I now do went through. But as mentioned previously, 2014 is a year of anniversary and remembrance of actual events; and this has been covered by the media in such detail and with such precision, that they’ve brought the true stories, the real tales of courage and sacrifice to life in a way that means you no longer to hear of Captain John Miller and his unit of US Rangers when the real life tale of someone like Stan Hollis is even more impressive.

2nd Rangers - Saving Private Ryan

It also doesn’t help that Saving Private Ryan, and I can’t believe I’m about to write this, no longer feels relevant. It no longer feels right. It’s not modern. We now live in such a technological world, that modern warfare is no longer about man on man, and the skill of the fighter in the way it was 70 years ago. Now it’s about weapons, fire power and technology. It’s hard to compare a man sitting in a bell tower acting as a look out for his friends below. Using hand signals and gestures to convey messages to that of an unmanned drone, flown remotely over the battlefield from the safety of an armoured military base many, many miles away. Reporting sightings from an HD camera to troops on the ground via radio. And because everything in modern war is now recorded in such clarity, and because society demands to see it, we are fed on a daily basis through hundreds and hundreds of media sources with real, true life events. Society has consumed so many true bullets that war is now acceptable, it’s pain free, it’s something to watch on Youtube. However wrong that is.

This all means, sadly, that these days a war film needs to fit this new modern vision of war. It’s hard to feel nostalgic about war, about death, and so it has to be gripping and painful, it needs to grab you and shock you. And Saving Private Ryan no longer did. I’d even go as far as to say that while it’s been 6 months since I saw it, Lone Survivor now feels the better film, the bench march. Purely because it fits the vision of war I am conditioned to accept and understand to be real.

Jeremy Davies - Saving Private Ryan

All is not lost for Saving Private Ryan though, because it is still a piece of cinematic masterpiece, and some of the performances are spectacular. Barry Pepper as hot shot sniper Private Jackson is a character many will not forget quickly, while for me Jeremy Davies as translator Corporal Upham steals the show, bringing the real terror, fear and mental destruction felt by those forced into situations beyond their routine in a way that will leave you in no doubt of the hell people went through in the name of lasting freedom. But I have come away from last night sad. Sad that the film has become stuck, that society has normalised war to the point that a film as good and important as it is for keeping these events alive for future generations to see has become almost irrelevant.

I truly don’t know any more where Saving Private Ryan fits in. The stories and tales from historical warfare are important, and the films that reflect them hold equal sway, but these days, it’s the positive stories like Schindler’s List, that appeal more than the all out front line fighting, because if I want to see war, death and tanks rolling along, the media have, appallingly, conditioned me now to only accept it if it’s guided by lasers and dodging I.E.Ds.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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