Here is a movie that gets worshipped by pretty much everyone, from young dudes to true war veterans. What is it that I’m missing? Now, first of all, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those Speilberg-hating little whiners who complain about his movies being more about the roller coaster ride than about the art. That’s bullshit and you know it, since you too grew up watching Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I still consider his best films. But I have to say that the treatment of serious material by Speilberg has always left me a little underwhelmed. Empire of the Sun seemed like a TV melodrama, Schindler’s List was beautifully filmed but too one-sided and Munich, well, I just didn’t like it.
Based on the real-life case of the Niland brothers, the story deals with Tom Hanks, who plays Captain John Miller. After a particularly brutal arrival in D-Day on France, Miller leads his crew on a rescue mission across France, fighting off Nazis in search of the last remaining brother of the Ryan family (played by Matt Damon). Now, there’s a little bit more than that, but it’s the main bulk of the story. There is a lot of good things with this film that cannot be denied. First of all is the cinematography is incredible and very beautiful, making the blood and gore looks brutal and real, while the landscapes are rendered from frightening to D-Day, to beautiful in the pastures of France. Second is the acting. Tom Hanks is cast somewhat ideally in the lead role, since he does have those everyman qualities that make this kind of film acceptable to a mainstream audience. It features a supporting cast of very talented players, such as Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, and Giovanni Ribisi, with Matt Damon lending a very good performance in particular as James Ryan. The third part of the film that goes off in flying colors is, of course, the action scenes! Speilberg’s always been a master at filming action, and it all works in this one. Bullets fly all over the place with many a shaky camera and medium closeups, lending to the intensities of the situation. And yes, the movie is not just bloody, it’s a fucking gorefest in proportion to a Men Behind The Sun war film from China. But of course, since it’s Speilberg, it’s acceptable and realistic, unlike the other exploitative type. I have mainstream critics.
But this is the part of the film that turned me off, the action. It’s the main reason why I’m not the biggest war film buff. Hollywood directors always have the feel to make war films because they are commercial, and also because they are making an important statement, not just about history but about patriotism. This to me is just wrong, since the techniques they employ to make the movie entertaining also glorifies the war. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a military hater. My family has a proud military tradition, my father serving in Vietnam and my grandfather serving in WW2. But that doesn’t mean I find it glamorous, and many, if not all of these films, believe in making this glamorous. This comes from, of course, that every war script has to be approved by the military to get the use of realistic props. Many an anti-war film has not been made thanks to this. I have only seen one war movie in my life that was truthful to the soldier’s point of view and the horrors of war, and that’s 1931’s All Quiet On The Western Front. So no, this is not a bad movie, and it can be entertaining, but in the end I believe there should be some moral questioning from a part of filmmakers about what should make a good war film.