Saving Private Ryan (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Scene access; Into The Beach behind-the-scenes documentary; cast and crew biographies; two theatrical trailers; production notes; subtitles in English

FROM gut wrenching opening to tear-inducing finale, Steven Spielberg’s war movie is an unforgettably moving, yet harrowing experience, which has become a modern classic.

In making Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg wanted to produce the definitive war movie - one which showed the horror and heroism of World War Two without glossing over the suffering and sheer wastefulness of battle. To this end he has succeeded, offering the viewer an unrelenting 25-minute opening chronicling the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, which is as violent and horrific as anything you are likely to see on film.

Gone are the glorified images of men honourably dying for their country, seen in countless other war movies. In their place is the stark reality of battle - men die horribly, either being ripped apart in a hail of bullets, or blown to pieces by mortars and mines. And Spielberg pulls no punches, filming the scene using hand-held cameras and giving it a documentary feel.

It is during this segment that we are introduced to the men who will lead us through the rest of the movie - a unit led by Tom Hanks’s war-weary captain. Their mission is to find and retrieve Private Ryan - the last of four brothers fighting in the war who, according to US military policy, must be returned home.

The task takes them behind enemy lines and leads them to question a policy which can place the lives of eight men above one. Hanks is superb as the leader of the unit, offering us a telling portrayal of an ordinary guy caught in an extraordinary situation, unable to make sense of the carnage around him. How he failed to land an Oscar I’ll never know!

And the supporting cast is equally impressive, with Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore and Edward Burns just about edging the acting honours from the likes of Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies and Giovanni Ribisi. The film is not entirely without faults - the lack of any other Allied soldier other than American is a bad oversight - but they are minor niggles in what is otherwise a masterpiece. See Saving Private Ryan, for as Spielberg rightly pointed out: “Only by confronting the pitiless horror of World War Two can we truly know its heroism.”