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39. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Saving Private Ryan

August 2, 2018

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Robert Rodat
Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies
Runtime: 169 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1998

 

★★★★☆

 

Continuing in the vein of his more viscerally challenging work from his Oscar win, Steve Spielberg takes to tackling subject matters with a far tougher contextual tissue than much of his earlier work, and Saving Private Ryan solidifies him as one of the best action filmmakers currently working in American cinema.

 

The opening half hour of the film, a hair-raising depiction of the siege on Omaha Beach, is one of the most harrowing and unremittingly brilliant stretches of warfare ever put to celluloid. Making use of nearly 1,000 extras and an incredible effort from the second unit and set designers, it’s a devastating, close quarters nightmare shot with the same sense of propinquity that informed both his and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński’s work on Schindler’s List. Remarkably violent in its prolonged intensity, it puts you in the shoes of the soldiers on the front line in a way no film has before.

 

It would be damning to say that the film doesn’t quite reach the standards of its opening sequences again, but Spielberg still manages to keep everything engaging by working from Robert Rodat’s character-packed screenplay in this fictional retread across the landscape of a war-torn and apocalyptic France. The cast list is daunting in the scale of its talent, from main players to bit parts and cameos, there’s a richness to its characterisation informed by the casting choices as much as the roles themselves. 

 

The winning performances come from the main troop, including Burns, Sizemore, Young, Pepper, Ribisi, Davies and even Vin Diesel. Damon appears in the later stretch as Private Ryan and owns some of the more dramatic moments with a brilliantly cast Hanks before hell breaks loose again in the films ruthless climax.

 

It’s probably too long and melodramatic at points, but Spielberg’s technique is magnificently powerful.

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