You can forget both the creepy "The Last Great Invasion Of The Last Great War" tagline and the slow-motion, feel-good trailers created for Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. They're advertising a different movie. Saving Private Ryan is a brutal film, free of the gooey-eyed romanticism suggested by its promotional campaign. In fact, large portions of Saving Private Ryan are given to calling into question the attitudes played upon by its ads. Tom Hanks plays an American army captain who, after taking part in the invasion of Normandy—portrayed here in what are likely some of the most viscerally affecting scenes ever put to film—is ordered to find the titular Private Ryan (Matt Damon), a paratrooper whose whereabouts are unknown, and whose three brothers have died in the war. As they travel deeper into the war zone, the soldiers Hanks leads on the mission (Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies, and others) question their public-relations-oriented task. Packed with about as many moral ambiguities as a Spielberg movie can handle, Saving Private Ryan provides a startling grunt's-eye view of war, refusing to subscribe to simplistic, blindly patriotic notions of honor and duty while working toward an understanding of what those words really mean. Of the many fine supporting performances, Davies (Spanking The Monkey, Going All The Way) is particularly notable as a dangerously innocent translator. By the time Saving Private Ryan wins the Best Picture Oscar next year, it will probably be smothered in the sort of overstated, reverent praise that can obscure any movie, no matter how good. Calling it the greatest war movie ever made does a disservice to other, equally worthwhile, lower-profile films (Sam Fuller's The Big Red One, for instance). But it's still an excellent movie, as effective in battle scenes as it is in that of soldiers ruminating on an Edith Piaf song. It should be seen for what it is while it still can be.
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