Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is not in my Top 10 of Favourite War Movies but in my Top 5 of most Influential War Movies

I have seen Saving Private Ryan for the first time in cinema when in came out. At the time it was like a fist in the gut. The Omaha Beach landing was nothing I had ever seen before and this was very probably the beginning of my fascination with war movies. Since then I have seen many more but when I ended up doing my Top 10 it wasn’t in it. I watched it again, like it a lot but didn’t want to add it to the list. Still it is important to say in advance, no matter what my personal reasons are,  the genre has been marked by Saving Private Ryan to a very large extent. There really is a time before and a time after Saving Private Ryan. Especially when it comes to WWII movies. The depiction of war has fundamentally changed with and through Saving Private Ryan. Never before did those who watched get the feeling they were in the battle like in Saving Private Ryan. Therefore, if I should make a Top 10 of most influential War Films, Saving Private Ryan would even be among the top 5.

I guess the second viewing was a distracted so I felt I had to re-watch it. I am sorry to say but this third viewing has made it clear to me. Saving Private Ryan is never going to be among my top ten unless I would have to choose movie scenes. It has some of the very best scenes that you can find in any war movie but unfortunately it has way too many really corny moments. As a matter of fact I hadn’t even remembered such a lot of corny moments. Maybe that is why I love Band of Brothers which is certainly the closest you can get to Saving Private Ryan. To me this is like a purified version of it. But still, it is excellent.

For those who have never watched it I’ll summarize the story. An old man stands at the grave of someone and looks back on his life. Rewind some 50 years. D-Day. We are in the middle of the Omaha Beach landing. Horrible scenes are shown. All filmed with a shaky hand-held camera to heighten the authentic feel. People’s guts spilling out. Bodies ripped apart. Heads blown off. Arms ripped out. Men crying, screaming and praying until the worst is over, the noise dies down and the only thing that stays is a beach full of dead bodies and body parts. After this horror Capt. Miller gets a new assignment. We will follow him and his group well into France and behind enemy lines. He has to look for one James Francis Ryan. All three of his brothers were killed in action so people in Washington decided to get him out and back to the States. The group around Capt. Miller are reluctant to go on such a seemingly futile mission. They don’t understand why they have to endanger their lives for the sake of one soldier. This is a very tight-knit group of soldiers and that is part of the appeal of this movie. The sense of camaraderie and friendship has rarely been depicted this touchingly. There are very moving moments especially between Miller and Horvath. There is one in which they talk to each other in an empty church at night. Their closeness is palpable. Strangely it almost makes you want to be there. There are much more tragic moments however. One after the other of the men gets killed until they find James Ryan. When finally discovering him they face the biggest problem. He doesn’t want to leave. He feels he owes it to his comrades to stay. His highly decimated group must defend a bridge against a majority of Germans. This is one of the many famous bridge scenes that we encounter in war movies. Bridges being strategically as relevant as hills, it is a frequent theme. As I don’t know if every reader knows the story I will stop here.

Saving Private Ryan has some of the most memorable war movie characters. I like Capt. Miller as much as Sgt. Horvath, the Privates Reiben, Jackson, Caparzo and Mellish and of course the Medic Wade. As we follow the little group for a long time we get to know them very well. It has also one of the most annoying war movie characters in it. Upham is a revolting person. And there is of course a very mean German. In any case, kudos to the actors. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon.

Saving Private Ryan is infantry combat at its best. A lot of intense fighting. Incredible settings. Unfortunately it has moments that are way too sentimental for my taste. I will always prefer Band of Brothers.

Now it’s your turn to rank it. 1. In your Top Favourite List 2. In a Best of List and  3. Most Influential ones.

Another of my posts on Saving Private Ryan: Mean Old Private Ryan

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Overlord: An Overlooked War Movie Masterpiece

The British war movie  Overlord is one of the most original and best war movies I have ever seen.  Since its coming out in 1975 it has mostly been forgotten although it was highly accalimed at the time.  That it is  widely unknown today  is really a pity. It is quite a simple movie, very short as well, only some 70 minutes, but it touches you like not many other. Overlord tells in a very personal way the story of a young man, Tom Beddows, who is going to war. He goes to boot camp, meets a young girl and knows he will be part of a big offensive that will send him to France. He will be part of Operation Overlord which  was the codename of  the invasion of Normandy by the Allied forces in WWII on June 6 1944 ( better known as D-Day). Tom doesn´t really want to be where he is but eventually gets accustomed to his new environment and the idea of going into battle. All through the movie he has dreams where he sees himself dying and he is quite convinced he wont return. Finally we see him being shipped out together with his comrades who are all  afraid of what awaits them.

As such this may not seem very special but the way this is done is just great. The movie was filmed in black and white and the story of  Tom Beddows is interwoven with original footage of bombed cities, planes, bombed trains, the landing itself and many other elements. This is done so well that the alternating parts blend into each other as if they were one movie.

Since it focuses so closely on one person (with just a few exceptions) it is very intimate. You get the feeling that this is not just anyone going to war but a young guy you might know and like since Tom is  gentle and  endearing.

All the original footage, that is very well-chosen, is by far more convincing than many CGI or reenactment parts of other movies.

It’s a perfect little movie that would probably even be appreciated by people who would normally never watch a war movie. Should you ever want to convince someone that the genre deserves its appreciation Overlord could be your choice to prove it.

It might also be great as a way to teach WWII in schools as there is no gratuitous violence.