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Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The first time I saw this movie I was blown away. The best film in years, I thought. The battle scenes were devastating, the characters interesting, the acting perfect. Director Steven Spielberg played with movie conventions, giving us the conventional set-up and then taking the less sentimental route. He grew balls during the making of this movie. Yeah, I didn't think much of the bookending sequence particularly the schmaltzy music accompanying the old man's walk to the cemetery but unlike many moviegoers I wouldn't discard them. Something the old man said finally made me lose it. He turns to his wife and asks, "Have I led a good life? Have I been a good man?" Almost every man leaves the theater thinking those thoughts about himself. And to get all this from a movie? Saving Private Ryan made me proud of movies again.
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Actor (Hanks)
Best Screenplay (Rodat)
Best Art Direction
Best Musical Score
Best Film Editing
Best Sound Effects Editing
"Have I led a good life? Have I been a good man?"
The second time around found chinks in the armor.
Must you hit us over the head with everything, Steven? Couldn't you let Tom Hanks' palsied shake occur within a scene rather than making it the focus of the scene? Let us notice it. Give us some credit.
Hanks' acting? The second time I caught whiffs of his comedic roles: the little ironic head-bob he does when resolving himself to a difficult issue. Would his GI act in such a manner? He also seemed a little too happy using military jargon not because his character, the schoolteacher turned Captain Miller, got a kick out of it, but because, one felt, Tom Hanks did. One saw the kid who probably watched war films and "Rat Patrol" in the '60s playing out a fantasy role. He could have turned to the camera and waved to his childhood buddies. "Hey, look at me! Can you believe this shit?"
The Normandy beach scenes are still nonpareil. Again, I think every man must wonder where he is in that scene. Retreat isn't an option. They can get you in the landing craft, they can get you in the water, they can get you as you storm the beach or crouch beneath a sand dune or as you inspect your helmet after a bullet whizzed off it. Later, two U.S. soldiers kill two surrendering Germans in cold blood. "What did he say?" one asks. "Look ma, my hands are clean!" the other responds, laughing. You understand why they do this, or, better, why you might do this. Moral hectoring isn't allowed here.
Tom Sizemore as Sergeant Horvath gives another dependable, unshowy performance. "Performance" is almost the wrong word because there seems so little acting in his acting. Ed Burns is good as Brooklyn's own hothead, Private Reiben. Giovanni Ribisi makes a spooky Medic Wade ghostlike and moral while Barry Pepper nearly steals the show as the script-quoting Christian sniper. Adam Goldberg, last seen (by me anyway) as the wishing-he-could-dance nerdlinger in Dazed and Confused, is recast, wonderfully, as the tough-talking Jewish soldier, Private Mellish. When captured Germans patrol by, he flaunts his Star of David. "Juden," he informs them. "Juuuuden."
In an interview, Tom Hanks said he feels Spielberg wishes he were Mellish but is actually closer to the film's cowardly nebish, Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies). How will the kid do under fire? That's one of the questions we ask ourselves as the film progresses. The answer is knee-quakening. One's bowels are loosened.
February 21, 1999
© 1999 Erik Lundegaard