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Saving Private Ryan

A band of brothers trying to find a soldier who has lost all of his.


Movie summary: Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. (IMDb)

It was a little strange watching Saving Private Ryan again having also watched Band of Brothers again what feels like not too long ago, which was produced by Steven Spielberg (director here) and Tom Hanks (Captain Miller) - the two share an audio-visual aesthetic, but the TV show can obviously spend more time letting us get to know the characters that it outclasses this movie in that regard.

The thing is, that really says more about how good both are, because this movie isn't any slouch when it wants the audience to know more about the characters we're following - it might not be as in-depth or detailed as the show, but Spielberg is expert enough to let us gain an understanding of what kind of person each member of the force sent to find the titular Private Ryan really is.

It's helped by a near three hour length, but still pretty impressive that Spielberg is able to make each of the men distinct enough from each other that it never feels crowded or as if time is being wasted on copies of each other - they all have their own personalities, behaviours and attitudes that define them just as much as their interactions with each other.

This means that, despite knowing them for far shorter a time, it hurts just as much to see them killed in action as any of Easy Company we've spent multiple episodes with, and it never feels cheap or manipulative either. Too many people assume that deaths alone make for high stakes in drama, but that doesn't hold up that well as an opinion if you don't care about those who are killed.

And it's easy to understand the frustration of Captain Miller's men either, being sent into enemy territory to find one soldier so he can be sent home and away from the war - it doesn't seem right that so many should fight and die for one man, yet it feels entirely the right course of action for the Ryan family and also for the belief that they are doing something genuinely good while death and destruction surrounds them.

One area where Saving Private Ryan completely outstrips it's TV counterpart - and many, many, many other war movies - is the budget available to depict war at its most horrific, mainly during the D-Day landings that open the movie and remain seared into minds of anyone who has ever watched this movie, even if they only ever saw it the one time when it first came out.

It's definitely not glamorous and neither is it celebrative of warfare either - it's harrowing and even numbing to watch the hell the soldiers went through just to make it off a beach. It's as bloody as you'd expect, with enough men dying to turn the sea water completely red, and there are multiple moments that are more relieving than what you'd call 'badass'.

There are still some who believe the rest of Saving Private Ryan doesn't live up to that opening sequence, but the movie never intends to - it opens big to let you know just how much danger there is for everyone involved, then sends the group off on their mission. The violence of those landings was to inform you just how much blood and horror you'd expect to see in a war, and sights you'll see again at various moments in the movie, even if the scale isn't quite as grand in scope.

How the movie looks adds to the effect, with a lot of grit, grain and dirt filling practically every shot, with drastic changes in light and colour levels - going from almost completely washed out to feeling like bright colours against black and white at times - adding to the sense of unease that the whole group feels while on their mission. It's not a dreamlike or 'unreal' tone, but more that separation from normality that only war on this scale makes possible.

For me though, it's the sound design that works best, with every single second an absolute audio treat - especially during combat, where gunfire, explosions, screaming and yelled orders all combine to form almost a score of their own. It's definitely not what you'd call pleasant to listen to thanks to what that sound is helping the movie depict, but it's astonishingly good at adding to the atmosphere and making everything happen on-screen feel all that more vivid.

Thanks to the Spielberg/Hanks connection between the two, it is effectively possible to slot Saving Private Ryan in-between the second and third episodes of Band of Brothers for one huge story, although there's virtually nothing beyond the aesthetics and World War II setting to connect the pair. It makes for one hell of an experience though, especially when both are so incredibly good.

Saving Private Ryan is a fantastic war movie, with an incredible opening that'll leave you stunned enough it'll make you appreciate the quieter moments that pepper the rest of the movie. It still looks great, it sounds truly incredible and the cast are uniformly (no pun intended) outstanding. Pair this with Band of Brothers for the ultimate D-Day+ war story experience.

[10/10 - Incredible]



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