THE TOP 25: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

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Kevin Lynch, Entertainment Editor

Welcome to “The Top 25,” a series on ProspectorNow where I’ll be taking a dive into IMDb’s list of top ranked movies to see how well they hold up and also whether they deserve to be on this prestigious list. Is this list definitive, or just a shot in the dark? Only time will tell.

Please note that this list varies depending both on which specific list you choose, as well as due to movies being periodically added, so you’ll have to trust me when I say that I’m using the list as it originally appeared when starting this series.

You might remember I called the last movie on this list, “The Green Mile,” “as close to a stereotypical top 25 movie as I can imagine.” I now rescind that statement, because number 24, “Saving Private Ryan,” stars Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, and more, and to round things out, is directed by none other than Steven Spielberg. If that doesn’t sound like top 25 material, then I sincerely don’t know what does.

Released in 1998 and receiving five Oscars, “Saving Private Ryan” has become one of, if not the most iconic war film(s) of all time. I remember watching the opening scene in my middle school history class and being devastated the rest of the day that we couldn’t watch the rest because it was just that spectacular.

Of course, being me, I never got around to watching it until I watched it for this list, and I’m sad to say that I didn’t miss much.

The plot, as you might gather from the title, follows a group of soldiers sent to find just one, whose family had lost all their other sons in the war. This premise, while fleshed out fairly well by the acting talent involved, is just a little too nonsensical for my liking. 

The film’s turnaround from the oftentimes gruesome and horrific Normandy Landings to this wholesome premise feels out of place, especially because the D-Day scene is so captivating that you’d think the whole story followed this trend. A movie can’t go from five soldiers at a time getting burnt alive to “every life matters” in a couple of minutes and expect the audience to play along, and I myself can only suspend my disbelief for so long.

The acting, as I touched on before, is top-notch, and while Hanks is the obvious standout, I enjoyed watching Matt Damon in this movie much more than I expected to. The banter between the soldiers, while all too familiar to me by now, still served its purpose of getting me to care about them to some extent. The characters themselves, however, are another story all together.

There’s roughly eight central characters, with only about three having actual character arcs. The problem is that this way, the movie tricks me into thinking I care about the other characters, but once they die, I realize that they actually meant nothing to me or the movie.

The movie’s pacing is wonky as well, as the movie starts with a thrilling battle, but then transitions into an enjoyable yet mundane romp across the countryside. There’s even a scene where one soldier accidentally knocks down a wall concealing an entire room of Nazi soldiers, which got me laughing, but only out of sheer disbelief that such a Looney Tunes-esque scene made it in what I thought was a serious war drama.

The movie’s climax brings it down especially, as it’s trying to close off the film with a battle akin to the one at the beginning, but it fails since I never felt any stakes or tension whatsoever besides, “Oh, no, that one side character might die!”. 

While I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about the movie, I don’t deny that it’s incredibly well made and is a genuinely good movie. From what I’ve heard, it practically reinvented the war genre as well. Sadly though, compared to the only two other war movies I’ve seen, “Saving Private Ryan” easily ranks last. It doesn’t hold a candle to the thrilling sequences from “1917” or the emotional depth of “Glory,” and I personally would put either movie on this list instead of “Saving Private Ryan.”

That being said, it’s very ambitious in its action and its themes, and it doesn’t pull any punches. The main problem is, only about half of its punches actually land, and I’m left wondering whether it was trying to subvert my expectations or just missed entirely.

The entire third act left me struggling to separate what was a deep message and what was lazy writing, almost always causing me to miss some other scene that I probably would have been confused by anyway. 

I wanted to love “Saving Private Ryan,” but unfortunately it put me off in a variety of ways. As you might be able to tell, I think the opening sequence is its best feature, but even that can’t carry the rest of the film. It’s still a good time and has a lot of deeper ideas about the nature of war, but unless you’re specifically hankering to see this movie, you’ll be okay saving it for later.