Review: Saving Private Ryan

Last year, the 20th anniversary of Saving Private Ryan came and went without a theater revival, which was confusing and disappointing, as a theater experience like Saving Private Ryan would have been incredible. I was fully expecting the next opportunity not to be for at least another five years, but it turns out Fathom Events was saving this revival for a much more important milestone: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the landing featured in the now legendary opening sequence. This milestone adds greater significance to the film as a whole, making watching this film in theaters now truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Saving Private Ryan follows Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and his small group of men following the brutal Allied invasion of German-controlled Normandy. Miller and his men are tasked with the special mission of finding Private James Ryan, an American paratrooper whose 3 brothers have all died throughout the war, and bringing him home to his mother. The film follows the group of soldiers penetrating enemy lines to complete this one nearly impossible task.

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Saving Private Ryan is such a visceral, experience-driven movie that seeing it in theaters heightens the experience ten-fold. When a German half-track is rumbling down a street just feet away and you feel the rumbling in your seat and throughout your body, there’s no comparable feeling other than really being there. Saving Private Ryan immerses in an almost realistic situation in a way that is possibly better than any other movie.

But with all of the iconic battle scenes, the D-Day sequence, the final battle for Ramelle, and the shootout with the German sniper, Saving Private Ryan never falters with the emotional aspect. Despite the numerous deaths, each one holds emotional weight with the characters who are brilliantly humanized. Steven Spielberg has a gift of keeping a story grounded despite extraordinary circumstances, and no other film showcases this gift better than Saving Private Ryan.

If I had to give one small critique for a mostly perfect film, it would be the use of comedy. There’s a surprising amount of humor in this film, and those scenes are probably the least memorable moments. It works brilliantly sometimes, like Matt Damon’s improvised telling of a humorous-yet-tragic story about messing around with his brothers for the final time, but a soldier getting shot in the head shortly after being barely saved by medics is a little too dark and ironic for me, and it feels out of place in the moment. However, this is a small quarrel with quite possibly the best war film ever made, and an amazing, emotional, complex, and deeply-human story rather than a retelling of events. Saving Private Ryan is simply one of the greatest experiences one can have watching a film, and a must-see whether it’s on the big screen or a smartphone. Well, preferably not a smartphone.