Grievances with Saving Private Ryan: Introduction

Steven Spielberg is one of the great practitioners of his craft ever. He is a talent, perhaps a prodigy to movie directing itself. But even Spielberg at his best is fallible and subject to missteps and that is more than ever the case in Saving Private Ryan (1999). This review looks at several key problems with Saving Private Ryan and shows that even considered efforts from the highest talents in the industry can conspire to create a weak film. It’s important to realize that even these best efforts can be criticized, realized as examples of cinematic follies; that despite the best efforts of those involved, Saving Private Ryan is a movie that is uninspiring and quite frankly uninspired.

This review will break down into five sections. In some respects these sections are concerned with different roles in filmmaking--directing, acting, writing, cinematography, and so on--but I’d like to believe that the problems in a film are not the fault of any one role. Particularly in a movie like Saving Private Ryan where everyone would seem to be bringing their A-game, it’s important to recognize that everything and everybody is culpable for the relative failure. Even so the first section will examine most explicitly Spielberg’s role, how he sets the tone, what he has achieved with his career in film, and what he fails to achieve here; why I have little patience for the way Saving Private Ryan is framed as a narrative and the performance of a director. Second I will consider the problems of telling this particular story; Saving Private Ryan does not really fit into the meaningful, modern conversation of war films and the obstacle it has to overcome is that of being about one of the most glorified conflicts in history. Similarly, I will look at some of the hyperbole and caricature that detract from having a meaningful connection with the events in the fifth and final section. The third and fourth sections of this review will critique certain aspects, particularly, of the visual appearance of the movie.

All of the problems I have with Saving Private Ryan are apparent in this shot late in the film.

All of the problems I have with Saving Private Ryan are apparent in this shot late in the film.

By looking at these five different points from which I can form grievances with Saving Private Ryan, I will conclude that the movie is lacking outright in the areas it is desperately striding towards greatness in. Spielberg may have earned our attention with his career, but he does not address the audience anew here and earn our respect for the film. Saving Private Ryan does little to provide audiences with new material to consider about war, despite making the effort of being a groundbreaking war film. The look of the film will be shown to be uninteresting, the events over determined. The result is a morass of hyperbole and caricature that leave much to be desired from this film. Even so, I don’t think that there are changes to be made to Saving Private Ryan, instead I think that there are other places to look and other ways to create when it comes to good filmmaking and meaningful war dramas. Such works will also be examined.