This past Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a monumental military achievement that set the ground work for the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. I can think of no better film that epitomizes the heroic struggle of the D-Day Normandy Invasions than Saving Private Ryan. In 1998, director Steven Spielberg released this film to wide acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the carnage that was World War II. There have been many films that sought to establish themselves as gritty or iconic in their portrayal of the most famous American battle of the war. Other famous war epics like The Longest Day had an all-star cast; and while it is a fantastic and ambitions film for its time, its portrayal of the horror of war is very tame.
Spielberg, while obtaining many celebrated actors, also sought to instill a sense of realism with historical accuracy paramount. Spielberg implemented skilled visual and special effects to bring the bloody beaches of Normandy to life. Saving Private Ryan centers around Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks). As a member of the Army Rangers, Miller and his men successfully fight their way ashore onto Omaha Beach. After the battle is over, the film takes a shift to the war department back home in the United States. As casualty figures are amassed and letters sent to families to inform them of their loved one’s deaths, it is soon discovered that one particular family, the Ryan family, has lost four brothers within a few hours of each other and the fifth (private James Ryan) is missing. The General of the War Department realizes what a public relations nightmare this could be and how it could jeopardize national morale. As orders get passed down the chain of command, it falls to Captain Miller and his small squad to locate Private Ryan and bring him home. This is made even more difficult because Ryan is a paratrooper whose unit was dropped as part of the Airborne Offensive the night before D-Day and was wildly blown off their intended objectives.
Along the way, Miller’s squad continues to suffer casualties and lose close friends. They begin to question why locating Ryan is worth risking all their lives. As the film draws to its climax they succeed in finding Ryan, who stubbornly refuses to abandon his friends who were ordered to hold a bridge at all cost. The group decides to aid Ryan and his fellow paratroopers hold off the German attack aimed at the bridge. The climax of the film is extremely tense and humbling as the soldiers fight against impossible odds.
This is an immensely powerful film; it shows the true horrors of war. The cost of young men who are fathers, brothers, and sons is utterly heartbreaking. The humanity and camaraderie shared between soldiers is so clearly brought to life by Spielberg’s film. Saving Private Ryan was nominated for Best Picture and won for Best Director. It would go on to gross 480 million dollars. It is wildly considered one of the greatest World War II films of all time. In 2014 it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
*Please note it is rated R for intense violence and language throughout.