Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Remember when America hated Nazis? It was a magical time.

In light of the horrible insurrection that occurred this week in Washington, DC, with the outgoing president inciting his fans to attack the Capitol while Congress was meeting the certify the election of his replacement, a review of Saving Private Ryan seems appropriate.

I’ve seen this movie, or at least parts of it, dozens of times. As I’ve grown older and begin to turn more and more into my father, I always try to rewatch it on Memorial Day. Or on D-Day. Or Veterans Day. Or just because. In fact, it was one of the few movies that I actually maintain a physical copy of, if only to make it easier to watch whenever and not at the whim of the various streaming services and how stuff cycles between being available and not.

From the opening scene – after the cemetery part where the old man finds a grave (more on him later) – you are thrown into the action. The camera first finds the shaking hand of Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) as he prepares to lead his group of Rangers to Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy Beach landing on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The gates on the boats drop, and you instantly see why he wanted them to clear the “murder hole.” Chaos erupts, and everyone is pinned to the beach. This has to be one of the best shot sequences in war movie history.

The sea runs red with blood. Captain Miller pauses to amongst the chaos. Dumping the bloody water from his helmet, he comes back to reality with the realization that he needs to get himself and his men off the beach. Removing a machine gun nests, helps, and our valiant heroes open the beach for the rest of the invasion force.

But before then, we see the body of a soldier named Ryan.

Cut to the casualty notification office, where a secretary realizes that the same mother has three letters inbound regarding three of her sons, two killed on D-Day and one in the Pacific. The Ryans. The youngest Ryan brother – the “Private Ryan” in the title – is also participating in the war, as a member of the 101st Airborne that jumped behind Normandy Beach – watch Band of Brothers for that exciting story (though the Ryans are not a real people).

General George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell) decides to send a rescue mission after the fourth Ryan brother, quoting a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to a Mrs. Bixby during the Civil War. If he’s alive, they are going to get him home to his mother.

As Captain Miller and his squad search for Private Ryan, they find other elements of the US military all over France, and members of the squad begin to question the efficacy of sending them to search for the proverbial needle in a haystack, especially as members begin to die. Private Caparzo (Vin Diesel) is first, struck down by a sniper when the squad stops and believes they’ve found Private Ryan.

It’s the quiet moments where this movie really shines. The hushed conversations in the church. Walking a night with the lights of battle in the distance. Sorting through dog tags looking trying to confirm if Ryan has been KIA. Patrolling through the French countryside on the way to Ramelle.

T-4 Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) is the next to die, shot while assaulting a machine gun placement found on the way to Ramelle. And when Captain Miller lets a German POW that was responsible for his death walk away, it nearly causes a mutiny. But they persist (after burying the dead), and finally locate Private Ryan (Matt Damon), defending a bridge with a ragtag group of soldiers.

Ryan doesn’t want to leave his unit, so Captain Miller and his crew decide to help defend the bridge from a looming German attack. They prepare the remains of the village for attack, ready to have their last stand at their “Alamo.” Some more quiet moments as the men wait for the inevitable attack.

The Germans attack. Nearly all of the American defenders die, and as Captain Miller stares down a tank with a 9mm handgun, the Army Air Force arrives to save them. Captain Miller is nonetheless gravely wounded, but Private Ryan is safe. As he dies, he whispers in Ryan’s ear, telling him “earn this.” Private Ryan returns home to his mother.

Cut back to that old man at the Normandy cemetery. You thought it was Captain Miller, didn’t you? Turns out its an elderly Private Ryan, telling the good captain that he has indeed earned it.

This movie has always been around my top 10 movies. In two previous times on this blog where I’ve ranked movies, it was there. Heading into this rewatch, it was ranked #12 on my FlickChart, not far from where it always seems to settle. Seems that a couple of movies since that last ranking in 2011 – Lincoln and Hamilton – served to bump it down a bit.

As I’ve been doing so far in this series, I re-ranked it, and it moved up. Honestly, at this point, my top 15 is kind of “tied for second behind Dogma” anyway, so we’re really just splitting hairs. Nevertheless, one of the best war movies ever made has crept back into my top 10, settling at #9 between The Shawshank Redemption and Return of the Jedi.

It’s still fairly unbelievable that Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture at the Oscars instead of this movie. Steven Spielberg was rewarded as Best Director, and it won some technical awards – Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing – winning a total of five of its 11 nominations.

Tom Hanks could have won Best Actor (he lost to Roberto Benigni in a movie no one has seen), but it was probably a little of Hanks’ fatigue within the Academy after his previous wins for Philadelphia (1994) and Forrest Gump (1995). The only better choice than Benigni was probably Edward Norton in American History X, one of my favorite performances of all time.

The other nominations were for Best Original Screenplay (Shakespeare in Love), Best Original Dramatic Score (Life is Beautiful), Best Art Direction (Shakespeare in Love), and Best Makeup (Elizabeth). I’d argue that the score was probably better, but John Williams has enough awards. Best Makeup should have really been a consideration as well, with solid depictions of war wounds storming the beach and elsewhere.

One of my favorite movies, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should watch it.

Until next time…

TDOH: Hamilton and the Army

Note: “Ten Days of Hamilton” is explained here. Today is Day 6. 

As a kid in the Caribbean I wished for a war
I knew that I was poor
I knew that it was the only way to 
Rise up
If they tell my story 
I am either gonna die on the battlefield of glory or
Rise up
I will fight for this land

Hamilton – “Right Hand Man”

As mentioned previously, Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean, far from the fledgling American colonies, though he was tangentially involved in what was going on through his employment with a trading charter. He learned a lot about trade and how the world at the time functioned, but he also had a lot of free time and some very helpful folks that would give him things to read. He filled his free time with reading – and writing – and eventually made it to America and his destiny.

As indicated in the quote above, Hamilton knew that his upbringing would prevent him from attaining the height of society. (He was very prescient in that way). Based on his studies of history, however, he also understood that there were “shortcuts” to the leading class, and that was through the service in the military.* Hamilton arrived in America three years before what would become the Revolutionary War, and began training with a New York volunteer militia company at King’s College (now Columbia University) shortly after the events of Lexington and Concord and in advance of the Declaration of Independence.  Continue reading “TDOH: Hamilton and the Army”

Unfinished Business – Chapter One

In the first post in this series, I talked about my reasons why I am considering rejoining the Army Reserves, and since it is a month later, I figured it would be a good time to update what is going on…which isn’t really a whole lot at this point.

Shortly after my previous post, I found an e-mail attached to the Army Reserve Career Counselor’s responsible for Direct Commissions. After some e-mails back and forth clarifying what I was actually asking about, I was passed on to the Career Counselor responsible for my geographic region… who I didn’t hear from for about three weeks. After finally getting around to responding to my initial query, it turns out that the person that I will eventually need to talk to is yet another career counselor. I guess it is my fault for trying to be so proactive, and seeing as how I can’t really start the process for a little while (more on that in a minute), I don’t blame them for pushing me off until later, especially when I’m sure that they have other work to do. It was just a nice reminder of how things work in the Reserves sometime.

The only other thing that really occurred in the past month is a visit I had with a former Army colleague while I was in California on spring break. When the fiance and I arrived in Anaheim, my good friend Alberto reached out and wanted to get lunch. I had forgotten that he was in Anaheim, literally a few minutes from where we were staying, so we delayed a day in Disneyland to meet him for lunch. It was really good to see him, and I was reminded that he was one of the many good people that I met during my time in the Reserves. Continue reading “Unfinished Business – Chapter One”

Unfinished Business – Prologue

I’ve been really bad about writing as frequently as I set out to at the beginning of the year. Part of this can be attributed to interference from school as I come down the home stretch in my MSF program, as well as my general frustration with looking for a job for the past few months. As the title to this post implies, however, this should be a series of posts, probably pretty infrequent initially, about some direction that I think I am going to take in my life, if only for the next 12-18 months or so. You’ve been forewarned that it is a long post. On with the show…

The general malaise in my life recently has not been all school/job search related. For the most part, I am able to do both those things almost on autopilot now, which can be both a good and bad thing. As I reach the middle of what should be the last semester I ever spend in school, I’m beginning to think about what is coming next for me. Sure, I’ll be working somewhere, hopefully sooner rather than later, and I’ll be moving back to Utah, again, hopefully sooner rather than later, and that’ll be fine.

My personal life seems to be at it’s highest point in the last six years or so, with a supportive girlfriend that loves me almost as much as I love her and plans for a long life together somewhere. With her support, I feel like I can, and will, eventually accomplish all of my goals, no matter how small, which is one of the many reasons why I love her. Continue reading “Unfinished Business – Prologue”