Movie review:Saving Private Ryan


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Movie review
Saving Private Ryan

Report prepared by:
Pramod B. Chordia
F.Y.B.M.S. “A”
Mithibai College
Batch of 2004-2007


Tom Hanks Capt. John Miller
Edward Burns Pvt. Richard Reiben
Tom Sizemore Sgt. Michael Horvath
Matt Damon Pvt. James Ryan
Jeremy Davies Cpl. Timothy E. Upham
Adam Goldberg Pvt. Stanley Mellish
Barry Pepper Pvt. Daniel Jackson
Giovanni Ribisi Pvt. Irwin Wade, Medic
Vin Diesel Pvt. Adrian Caparzo
Ted Danson Capt. Fred Hamill
Max Martini Cpl. Fred Henderson
Dylan Bruno Pvt. Alan Toynbe
Joerg Stadler Steamboat Willie
Paul Giamatti SSgt. William Hill
Dennis Farina Lt. Col. Walter Anderson

Part I
An elderly man steps into an endless sea of white crosses. He finds one particular cross amidst thousands and falls on his knees before it. Suddenly we're transported to Omaha beach, it is June 6th 1944. Landing crafts are breaking the dark waves. Men are silently praying, some are throwing up, partly of fear, partly of seasickness. A shaking hand is reaching out for the water cannister. "30 seconds...God be with you..." A soldier kissing a silver cross in the sun light and then all halls breaks loose. The unprepared soldiers are met with overwhelming gunfire. Now the camera is running, twisting on the beach. Chaotic flashes of light, the ground going up and coming down, confused soldiers, half crazed by fear, are helplessly trying to stay alive. Some of these scenes will forever burn into your mind. A German bullet fired from the bluff above gazes a GI helmet, making a harmless clang, but before the soldier can registrate his luck, another bullet catches him in the forehead, tearing out the back of his skull. Another soldier, a young boy, is lying on the ground with his belly wide open, holding his silver cross. Burning men threw in the air by mines and grenades, landed with missing body parts. Whether you live or die is a matter of luck, not survival tactics or experience. Severed heads, limbs, terror, screams and panic are everywhere - this is the real disaster now. No one dies heroically, pretty or mercifully. There is no John Wayne or Rambos. These soldiers are ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances and they behaved extraordinary. When the battle ends with success and the gun fire stops, camera elegantly flies over the beach. The sea water is red with blood and the shore is covered with uncountless bodies. And while the majestic and powerful score kicks in, you can whipe off your cold sweat and start breathing normally after the most intense, graphical, terrifying as well as artistic combat sequence ever created. This is the beginning of Steven Spielberg's nightmare vision of the "last good war" - "Saving Private Ryan”. Slowly the plot begins to take shape.

Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his troop: a sensitive army medic (Giovanni Ribisi), a language specialist that has never been in combat (Jeremy Davies), a Jew that takes the subject of war very personally (Adam Goldberg), an understanding and loyal sarge
(Tom Sizemore), a God fearing southern sharpshooter (Barry Pepper), a Brooklyn loud-mouth (Edward Burns) and an Italian-American (Vin Diesel) have survived the carnage of the D-day assault and have been ordered new mission: to find and retrieve Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in action. Ryan is a paratrooper that has been dropped somewhere behind enemy line, in the German territory. Miller's men openly question why the life of an unknown soldier should be more valuable then their own. As they move deeper into hostile territory, difficult decisions must be made. Should they save a little French girl from a war torn village at the expense of their mission? Should they execute a German POW for killing their fellow soldier or should they let him go at the risk that he will rejoin his forces and continue fighting? Actually the whole film is one big moral dilemma.

You can say that the plot is pure Hollywood - risking the lives of seven men to save one. But it is extremely effective as it displays the meaningless of war itself.

The cast could not be better, consisting of a few well known actors and fresh, new talents. Spielberg has masterfully recreated the bondage between the soldiers in the squad. We get a glance into their confused minds and tortured souls; we get to know them. This makes it extremely hard (emotionally) to see them die before our eyes for nothing and no one.

The visuals are breathtaking and award worthy. Incredibly original cinematography bases itself mostly an on handhold camera that places you right in the middle of the carnage of battle. This creates a much stronger effect than several other films. Tom Sanders' historical art direction is equally spectacular - ancient churches and historical buildings ruined by explosions. The dramatic score by John Williams is not disappointing; however it sometimes pushes too hard. The sound is as nothing I've ever heard before - you feel bullets around you, you have to turn around and check if the person beside you is still alive. The visual effects are likewise spectacular and absolutely convincing. But in comparison to Oscar winner "Titanic", the real strength of "Saving Private Ryan" lies not in its visual beauty and marvelous effects, but in its deep and emotional plot and wonderful performance of the cast (especially by Tom Hanks and Giovanni Ribisi).

When the film ended I sat, cold sweltering and deeply moved by what I have just seen, or better described - experienced. "Saving Private Ryan” is probably the best and most powerful war film that has ever been made. Its achievement lies in its openness, its uncovered, graphical display of insanity and heroism of ordinary people that made the difference and eventually won the war. It's a monument to those who fought and died and to those who survived. It's purpose is not only to show us how the war was like, but also to realize that behind every cross there is a man, a life, dreams, hopes and family. "Saving Private Ryan" is a tale about humanity and self-sacrifice among the horrors of war.

Part II
The movie Saving Private Ryan hits you with shocking realism. From the beginning to the end, you feel as if you are there. The knots twist in your stomach waiting for the landing craft gate to drop. Cold water fills your boots as you slog your way up the beaches of Normandy and across the bombed out cities in France. You can feel the grit under your fingernails and the dryness of fear in your mouth. As you hear the bullets whiz by your head and you think to yourself, "Will I freeze up or will I do what I am supposed to?"
In seconds before the charge, the eyes of the soldiers turn and gaze upon the person who is their leader. They think to themselves, "Is this person worthy?" An effective leader is one who has created trust and built a bridge of confidence between the leader and with those they lead before the first battle begins.
Today’s workplace sometimes resembles more of a combat situation than anything else does. Are your people following you or have they deserted and heading in the opposite direction? People today want leadership, they are not happy being managed.
This movie clearly showed what it means to be a leader. It was a fascinating work of art—sometimes horrific, but entirely accurate. The genesis of my fascination was that I could see myself.
Job Titles Do Not Make a Person a Leader.
Leaders must first travel down the gauntlet with those they lead before they are accepted as the leader. Joel Barker, the paradigm expert, has the best definition of leadership. He says, "Leadership is about taking people to a destination they wouldn’t go to by themselves." To reach that "destination," a leader must endure a "baptism by fire." He or she must prove themselves first. Until you prove yourself as a leader you will not have the respect and trust from those you are suppose to lead. The title "leader" is not something you call yourself. Like a crown, those you lead place it upon your head.
The supreme test of leadership is the ability to lead people in combat. There is nothing scarier than facing the possibility of death in war. No matter the situation--war or peace, authentic leadership and a clear sense of purpose are the key ingredients making the difference.
Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) was faced with the almost impossible mission to lead a squad of soldiers to find and bring Private Ryan back home. The most fascinating aspect of this movie was the portrayal of leadership and the magnetism between the soldiers, the mission, and their Captain. It was the Captain that formed the glue that held that unit together. Looking at the movie you can see three important shifts or transitions in Capt. Miller’s leadership style. I call these three shifts the "Faces of Leadership."
The "Faces" of Leadership
Face of Fear- The lowest level or form of leadership is by fear. On Omaha Beach, orders were direct and to the point. Life or death-do what you are told because there is little time to think. Anyone who has been in combat or in a trauma situation understands that people don’t always act rationally in a crisis. Even the Captain slipped into a momentary "thousand yard stare" when the ravages of combat became overwhelming. Leaders have to think, must push themselves forward and give orders for the group. What is good for the group must outweigh what is good for an individual.
Face of Respect- After the invasion on Normandy beach, Miller was given orders to take a hand full of his men to find Private Ryan. It was a most difficult task, but Miller accepted it without a question.
Capt. Miller had a charismatic effect on his men based on trust and respect. He revealed enough about himself to maintain professional objectivity. He couldn’t afford to do anything that would compromise the mission.
I enjoyed watching how the soldiers bantered back and forth about what was the Captain’s career before the war. His troops even started a lottery for the person who could guess what the Captain did. During one of the scenes, they egged the "new guy" (the young translator who had the typewriter on Normandy beach) to ask the Captain what he did back home. Captain Miller took it as a joke but didn’t reveal the secret.
Early in my life, I faced a similar dilemma. I worried about being liked by my mates. Should I be feared or should I be respected? I resolved this dilemma though trial and error. Leadership is a developmental process. There are few, if any, born leaders. Leadership is both a science and an art form and the good leaders learn from their mistakes. The Faces of Fear and Respect can only take you so far which leads us to the next level.
Face of Purpose- The highest level of leadership is that of providing purpose. True leadership progresses from fear, to respect and finally to purpose. During one scene in the movie, you could feel this important transition.
As the squad fought deeper into enemy territory, death and combat stress began to take its toll. Captain Miller's men find themselves beginning to doubt their leader and their orders. They demanded, "Why is one man worth risking eight...why is the life of this private worth more than ours?"
But first, another firefight took the life of another comrade. The scene unfolds on the hill of the enemy radar station. Reality, hate, fear and the laws of the Geneva Convention tore at Miller’s mind and unraveled the cohesion of his men. Despite tremendous objections of his soldiers, Captain Miller just released the only surviving German soldier from the firefight. Unknown to all of them, this same German soldier would be the one that would take Captain Miller’s life at the end of the movie.
Then the stand off happened. One American soldier decided to leave—to desert the unit. The trigger finger of the First Sergeant held life and death in balance as he pointed his pistol at the soldier who prepared to abandon his comrades. Life and death hung in the balance for what seemed forever until the Captain spoke.
He told them the secret, what he did before the war. He was a school teacher. Silence... you could feel the explosive pressure evaporate. You could almost hear the soldiers say themselves, "Damn, if he is a school teacher, what am I complaining about!" It was at this moment, the final and most significant shift occurred.
The First Sergeant lowered his pistol. The soldier, who seconds ago, wanted to desert his unit, now understood the purpose of the mission. He too saw himself as an integral part of the operation. The men no longer needed or depended on the leadership of the Captain. The soldiers were once again on the same side united in their outlook—they had a purpose. There was complete alignment between what they had to do and how it could make a difference to their world.
Every Army unit has a flag called a guidon. Each unit guidon has its own unique design and color. The guidon stands apart from other military units. The challenge facing all leaders today is to create their own "guidon" based on the Face of Purpose.
For most people today, just having a "job" does not cut it. A job is an obligation with a paycheck attached to it. Creating purpose at work is much different; it requires leadership. People will not give their all until they see the connection between what they do and how they see it making a difference in the world. A connection between what people value and what they are doing must exist. It is the psychological connection between my soul, my heart and what I do.
Hopefully, none of us will have to face the horrors of combat, and my thanks go to those who have. But let us be ever mindful, it is leadership that makes an exceptional difference—in war or peace.

Decoding Miller
The Character of Protagonist in "Saving Private Ryan"
The movie "Saving Private Ryan" is like a large painting with many carefully brushed hues. Where does one begin in analyzing it? Perhaps if I can touch on how it addresses an issue of current concern in society, it will prove useful. My focus is Captain John Miller, the chief protagonist, and his character's connection to today's ongoing discussion of moral character and leadership.
Although we see Capt. Miller more than anyone else in the film, he may be the most difficult character to analyze. He does not wear his passions and opinions on his sleeves as his fellow soldiers do. In fact, he intentionally reveals little about himself. Like many other leading men, we need to carefully observe his interaction with several of other principal characters to discover Capt. Miller's worthwhile character traits.
The opening battle scene provides us with a good opportunity to make to some initial observations about Capt. Miller. If men, like metal, are tested by fire, then Capt. Miller will surely reveal his base alloy in the Omaha Beach invasion.
With bullets pouring like rain on the invading forces, the overwhelming temptation for many Allied soldiers on D–Day was to simply hide behind the beach's barricades. (It has been reported that some of the soldiers were so paralyzed by fear that they hunkered down behind those barricades long enough to drown once the tide came in) Capt. Miller resists the temptation to stay shielded. He leads his men across the beach and up to the cliffs so that they will be in a better position to use their weapons. Their unit is one of those that contribute to the success of the Allies in this decisive battle. Specifically, it is field commanders like Capt. Miller that enable sound tactics to compensate for blown strategy. This scene allows us to see Capt. Miller clearly demonstrate his ability to persevere and fulfill a mission in the midst of deadly chaos.
Soon after the battle, we are told that Capt. Miller was specifically chosen to play the role in the battle that he did. Now he is given another mission. This mission comes straight from Gen. Marshall. Capt. Miller is to rescue Private James Ryan from behind enemy lines and bring him to safety. His three brothers have died in combat, one on the Omaha Beach. Gen. Marshall believes that no mother should have to lose all of her sons in war–he wants Private Ryan sent home. Capt. Miller accepts the mission, finds Corporal Upham (translator) and begins his mission with his squad.
Most of the people on the mission with Capt. Miller are those that we saw with him in the opening battle scene. As they walk through the lush French countryside, the men begin to question the purpose of the mission. They wonder if it is prudent to risk several lives to find one man. Where is the equity? The underlying question comes down to this: what is a human life worth? Perhaps all heroes in the classical mode must face this question at some point. And yet there is another theme layered in this scene. Corporal Upham (the smart but awkward coward) is trying to openly make a brotherly bond with the other men. This overt attempt to forge (force) relationships is met with laughter.
Capt. Miller does not discourage the questions that surround the mission. But he cannot join in the complaining. He allows the spirited young men to voice their concerns. Perhaps he realizes the futility of his position. How can one convince another to go to risk for another person that he does not even know? He uses humor and directed discussion between his men to further the sense of purpose about their mission. Instead of authoritative lectures about duty or simple orders to "shut up," Miller leads his men in a mature fashion. They respond appropriately. In this way he is able to encourage closeness between the men that is not so contrived as the intellectual attempts at brother–building made by Corporal Upham. Rank aside, Capt. Miller's seasoned approach clearly makes him the leader of this outfit.
We shall now jump ahead in the film. The mission has already lost one man, Private Caparzo, to a sniper. Against the advice of his men, Capt. Miller decides that they should make an open field attack on a Nazi radar nest protected by a machine–gun. The plan for the attack is implemented with great success. The enemy is destroyed, save one. Capt. Miller's unit survives, except one. But the death of that one man provides some agonizing minutes as the group comforts him in his last moments of anguish. In horror, they watch him die in pain, calling for his mother. (Capt. Miller later weeps for Wade, but in private.)
Having witnessed the death of their comrade, they now seek to kill the Nazi who survived the raid. Corporal Upham, showing little passion for anything or anyone up to this point, now insists that the Nazi should be treated like a prisoner and be allowed to live. After much heated discussion, Capt. Miller decides to blindfold the Nazi and send him off. Knowing his mission will not allow him the luxury of caring for a prisoner, Capt. Miller hopes that another unit will capture the German.
This action infuriates some of the men. Private Reiben's open disgust leads him to the point of abandoning the mission. Sgt. Horvath becomes enraged with Reiben and orders him to stand down. Horvath even pulls out a pistol to make Reiben obey. Reiben would apparently rather risk his life than continue on the mission. Horvath seems intent on killing him if he leaves.
Just at this critical juncture, Miller intervenes. He does not tell them to break it up. Instead he tells a little about his own life. We find out that he is a school teacher and is married. Miller reveals a private side of him previously kept secret. He admits that he does not know the meaning of the war or the worthiness of Private Ryan. (He may not even be alive.) Miller's soliloquy closes with an offer to officially release Reiben from the mission. Reiben, clearly moved by the candid sincerity of Miller, decides to stay with the mission. Miller leads by example.
Before long, the squad locates Private Ryan. Once he finds that his brothers are gone, he does not want to leave his comrades, whom he now considers family. He will stay with his unit and protect the bridge to which they are assigned.
Miller's squad shows disgust at Ryan. Although, lives were lost to bring him back, he refuses to be rescued. Miller does not try to pressure Ryan into coming with him. Is his mission to fail? He consults with Horvath, his second in command. Horvath reminds Miller of what he probably already knew: saving Private Ryan might be the one worthwhile thing that they do in the war. Perhaps, Horvath indicates, it can earn them the right to go home and enjoy the private life that they all long for.
Decision–makers are often faced with difficult decisions like this one, for which all of the possible options look undesirable. The better leaders often come up with options that no one else thinks. Miller neither wants to abandon the mission nor take Ryan back by force. He creates a third option. Miller decides that his own squad will help defend the bridge with a well–orchestrated plan.
Just prior to the final battle, Upham translates a beautiful song to the squad while Miller talks to Ryan. Miller encourages Ryan to think of his brothers in terms of a context (a literary tool) so that he may properly remember them. Though both were valuable, Miller's appreciation of art had more practical application than that of Upham's.
Like many well–laid plans, Miller's is not completely successful. The Germans do not take the bait. Their numbers overwhelm the two Allied units. Heavy casualties ensue until the reinforcements arrive. But if success is measured by the result of his mission, Miller makes the grade. Private Ryan is saved.
Ironically, Miller is killed by the very Nazi who he released earlier. Upham then kills that Nazi, but only after the battle is won and the danger of retaliation is over. As he dies, Miller tells Ryan to "earn this." Ryan, not to mention we the viewers, must strive to be worthy of the sacrifices made by those who have rescued him. In response to the earlier query as to what a human life is worth, Miller responds by giving up his own to rescue a virtual stranger.
Let us consider some of the observations that we made along the way. What character traits do we find that contribute to the leadership of Capt. Miller? I offer some comparisons between him and the men under his command. Miller shows a high level of intelligence—an educated common sense, unlike that of Upham. He also shows the courage that sorely Upham lacks. Other men in Miller's group show courage as well. But their spiritedness is not balanced by the self–control required to make good decisions. Miller needs to make good decisions since he is the leader. His leadership supersedes that of Horvath, who must lead with force when things become difficult. Miller leads by persuasion and example. He does find it necessary to humbly seek counsel with others when necessary, thus leaning on insights of Horvath when appropriate. Like the literary protagonists he lectured on to his classes, Miller may represent the main character in a drama where the minor principals represent some incomplete part of him.
There is no doubt that Miller demonstrates superior leadership over his men. But he does show his normal human longings and emotions. We know that he desires the private life that he refuses to put before his public duties. He displays a sense of humour. And he weeps.
Like all human beings, Miller finds it difficult to balance justice with mercy. He knows that life cannot be as fair as Reiben and the others would like—an imperfect world cannot produce perfect justice. His own judgment of mercy leads to his own death at the hand of the prisoner he released. Miller is ultimately brave and honorable. His ability to persevere in a mission is almost uncanny. He is a leader to be entrusted with the most serious of missions. It has been said that Upham's cowardice reflects how most of us would act in similar situations. If this is true, then Miller, the poet–warrior, is clearly our superior. And further, if we are correct in our assessment of Capt. Miller, then we should certainly see the need for such superior moral character coupled with practical judgment in our contemporary society. These are the components of honorable leadership.

Writing credits Robert Rodat
Original music by John Williams

Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski

Film Editing by Michael Kahn

Production Design by Tom Sanders

Art Direction by Tom Brown
Ricky Eyres
Chris Seagers
Alan Tomkins

Set Decoration by Lisa Dean Kavanaugh

Costume Design by Joanna Johnston

Produced by Ian Bryce (producer)
Bonnie Curtis (co-producer)
Kevin De La Noy (associate producer)
Mark Gordon (producer)
Mark Huffam (associate producer)
Gary Levinsohn (producer)
Allison Lyon Segan (co-producer)
Steven Spielberg (producer)
Directed by Steven Spielberg