Most of us haven't a clue about what times were like during World War II. And just to assure you that things were pretty tough comes along Saving Private Ryan. And in two-and-a-half hours it gives you the opportunity to understand a good deal of what war is like without suffering any of the consequences.

The movie starts off peacefully enough with a shot of a war veteran visiting a cemetery. His family dutifully in tow, like you, is a little bewildered why this trip is so important. But it is a trip into the past for the old man, one that draws you in too. And soon you are plunged into the maelstrom of war, on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

And the violence unleashed will give you an idea why the film's release in India was delayed. For, besides extremely realistic sound and visuals, you find the film a little too gut-churning for taste at times. But Saving Private Ryan isn't really about home and mamma's apple pie.

And that's why you need to put your emotional seat-belt on for the next 25 minutes. The slaughter starts long before the unloaded soldiers reach shore, with disquieting shots of bullets bubbling evilly through the English Channel and hitting men.

The mayhem continues as soldiers wade towards shore, with close-ups of guts spilling out of a blown-up stomach, and stumps of arms and legs all waved before your face. This bit is so like the real thing that at least one US government site has details for veterans who relive traumatic experiences after seeing the film.

When Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) reaches shore, the waves are lapping bloody red. The scene of carnage ends with a close-up of a body of a soldier with "Ryan" on his backpack. There's an overdose of carnage there, shown more explicitly than necessary. The same statement could have been made in a quarter of that time. And Spielberg being Spielberg could have achieved the same effect with half the bloodshed. Anyway, chances are you won't visit the snacks stall during the interval...

Immediately after that long and climactic bit comes the sudden lull. The shot is that of typists in a military office furiously banging away letters to the kin of the dead. That's when it comes to light that three brothers have been killed in action and that the last man is still out there in battle zone.

That's terrible PR if all the kids in one family are snuffed out, says the army chief, and orders that the last of the Ryan brothers be brought out safely and handed over to his mother.

The plot is inspired in part by the true story of Fritz Niland, one of four brothers from New York state who saw action during the war. Two Niland brothers were killed on D-Day while another went MIA in Burma and was presumed dead (He actually survived). Fritz was located in Normandy by an army chaplain, and taken out of the combat zone.

On reel, Captain Miller is assigned the mission of saving Private Ryan soon after his Omaha Beach landing. Since their interpreter is killed on D-Day, Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies) is "drafted" into Captain Miller's squad. Having never been in battle first-hand -- just like me and perhaps you too -- Upham is the character we can easily identify with and from whom we gain perspective of the mission.

As the eight-man squad plunges deeper into enemy terrain, they are a little resentful of their mission, wondering if Private Ryan was indeed worth risking all their lives?

On the way, you learn more about each member of the squad, from Sgt Horvath (Tom Sizemore), Miller's right hand, to Jackson (Barry Pepper), a sharpshooter who always prays before taking aim and firing. Miller himself keeps the rest in the dark about his peacetime activity.

After one false alarm and the death of two colleagues, open dissension breaks out, with allegations flying around that all Miller cares for is a medal. The captain defuses the situation by dispelling the mystery about his background, casting himself in a far more human light. When they finally locate Private Ryan (Matt Damon), he refuses to leave his post in a ruined village. So Miller and his men then decide to stay on to fight the enemy...

The most gripping scene in the movie possibly is the one wherein Upham is paralysed by fear and does nothing to stop the death of another member of the squad. Fear is writ large across his face and he cringes in a corner. The killer walks past him, the smirk on his face reflecting the feelings of the audience.

Though Hanks is usually stereotyped in mushy and emotional roles, he plays the strong, silent one as Captain Miller.

To turn Hanks and his GIs into a credible military unit, they were made to experience the rigours of boot camp with help from former US Marine Corps Captain Dale Dye. All, except Damon. Spielberg wanted Damon locked out of the octet's haggard, hollow-eyed camaraderie. When he showed up on set after having missed the travails of the camp, the others found it easy to muster the resentment required for the camera.

Spielberg's challenge in making a film based on history required him to re-create history for his sets -- everything from stretch of coastline to the battle-worn uniforms were carefully crafted. Similarly, the weaponry depicted in the film -- Sherman tanks, bazookas, Panzerschrecks -- are all historically accurate.

To achieve a tone that was not only true to the story, but reflected the period in which it is set, Spielberg and Oscar-winning cinematographer Jan Kaminski worked hard to prevent Saving Private Ryan from looking like a technicolor extravaganza about World War II and more like low-tech colour newsreel footage from the 1940s.

There are no real heroes in this movie, and that's a pretty good thing. You won't come out of the movie in awe of any one particular actor, but with horror and a better appreciation of the wages of war. Quite natural, therefore, that Saving Private Ryan was nominated for 11 Oscars and bagged five -- for best director, best cinematography, best sound, best film-editing, and best sound effects editing.

And let me assure you, they deserved every one of them.

Tell us what you think of this feature
Home | News | Business | Sports | Movies | Chat | Infotech | Travel | Shopping Home |
Book Shop | Music Shop | Hotel Reservations | Personal Homepages | Free Email

(c) Rediff On The NeT All rights reserved.