Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Rating: B+

Dir: Steven Spielberg
Star: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Edward Burns

As Spielberg’s career moves on, his talent is going in two different ways; his technical ability continues to improve and amaze, but his emotional manipulation seems to be becoming more cynical and blatant. I mean, starting (and finishing!) with the Stars and Stripes is crass beyond belief; I don’t mind an Amero-centric view of the war, but some acknowledgement of other nations’ involvement might have been nice — even Independence Day wasn’t that jingoistic. [And let’s not even start the “…and where were they for the first three years?” thing…] Dramatically, it’s a mess: I remain unconvinced that any official – or at least, any unelected one – would demand a mission to rescue one grunt. It’s the kind of courageous idiocy permissible in a Bruce Willis movie: here, it stabs the film’s structure in the heart. Oh, and I’m equally unconvinced of Hanks’ acting abilities.

Okay, plot not credible, lead actor weak: two big strikes. Now look at the TC rating: B+. Shurely shome mishtake? No, because when in motion, this is superb. The first thirty minutes are relentless, although gratuitous beyond the dreams of Lucio Fulci (unless you weren’t aware that war is hell), especially in a movie pushing three hours. But it’s the finale, with the Americans facing the Germans for control of a crucial bridge, which captures the senses. The set-up is ‘Aliens’, a small force, with limited resources, forced to confront a far superior enemy with ingenuity and courage, and the execution is equally as good. Of course, the valour and purpose on view denies the message of the opening sequence, where futilely dying like cattle is as good as war gets.

Thus, a complete abortion as a drama, but as a war film, it pulls no punches, and delivers everything you’d want. And the grade is on that basis.