Saving Private Ryan

Steven Spielberg’s 1998 exercise in Oscar-mongering is a compilation of effects and impressions from all the war movies he’s ever seen, decked out with precise instructions about what to think in Robert Rodat’s script and how to feel in John Williams’s hokey music. There’s something here for everybody — war is hell (Sam Fuller), war is father figures (Oliver Stone), war is absurd (David Lean, Stanley Kubrick), war is necessary (John Ford), war is surreal (Francis Coppola), war is exciting (Robert Aldrich), war is upsetting (all of the preceding and Lewis Milestone), war is uplifting (ditto) — and nothing that suggests an independent vision, unless you count seeing more limbs blown off than usual (the visceral opening sequence, showing Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944) or someone getting graphically shot underwater. The story is about a squad trying to find and send home a private whose three older brothers have already been killed in World War II; it’s a mission ordered by General George C. Marshall (backed by the authority of Abraham Lincoln, who’s backed in turn by Spielberg) and executed by Tom Hanks, a captain named John instead of Joe. It has a few pretty good action moments (including a climax straight out of the Indiana Jones trilogy), a lot of spilled guts, a few moments of drama that don’t seem phony or hollow, some fairly strained period ambiance, and a bit of sentimental morphing that reminds me of Forrest Gump; it also lasts the better part of three hours. With Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, and Barry Pepper. R. (JR)

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