Steven Spielberg has made it his mission to make sure that when we live with the sounds of peace, we never forget the men who made it possible.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

In "Saving Private Ryan," Steven Spielberg thrusts his cameras right into the battle of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and commands us to watch what happened when thousands of young Americans poured onto Omaha Beach at the outset of the final push to win the war.

Given the mission of securing the beach, these men were mowed down as they hit the water. They had to move forward into steady gunfire to make room for the troops coming in behind them. The water turns to blood, men drown under the weight of their packs, their limbs are shot off, their insides spill out, bodies slosh and bump each other in the water that laps at the beach. Spielberg takes a full half-hour to show us the carnage of Omaha Beach, and when he is finished we are numb.

Back in Washington, General George C. Marshall is informed that three brothers from Iowa have died in battle. He orders a unit under the command of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) to find the surviving Private James Ryan and return him safely to his family.

We are breathing a little now, because we can take refuge in a story after the grueling truth of the D-Day landing. Tom Hanks, in a superb, understated performance, is the essence of the good and decent men who rose to lead troops against an inhumanity that nearly enslaved Europe. Hanks's personal integrity makes him perfectly credible as a modest man called on to lead.

A supporting cast, including Tom Sizemore and Ed Burns, does a fine job of arguing the justice of risking eight lives to save one. Captain Miller frames it: "The choice is always between the mission and the men." Matt Damon is solid and strong as the loyal enlisted man. In a movie this good, it seems petty to quibble, but a contrived episode built around a particular German soldier borders on the melodrama of lesser war movies, and becomes a grievous mistake.

These soldiers are wet and hurt and hungry, and their deaths are hideously abrupt. When three pairs of hands try to pressure a comrade's stomach wound, war becomes unbearably personal. "Every man I kill," the Captain says, "the farther away from home I feel." Spielberg has no intention of letting us recuperate while Ryan's story unfolds: his ending equals his beginning in impact.

There is a moving immediacy to a war fought in pockets on the familiar and beloved landscape of an ally. Watching the battles move across the bucolic beauty of France, we feel the enduring truth that landscape is eternal while the brutality that erupts on it is temporal. This is the French spring, after all, and between the battles that carved such a hideous scar on history, we hear birds and see blossoms. Steven Spielberg has made it his mission to make sure that when we live with the sounds of peace, we never forget the men who made it possible.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Dreamworks
Rating : R
Running time : 2h49m

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