Saving Private Ryan – review

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Much has already been written about the extraordinary opening beach assault, I will only say how impressive the attention to detail is (a bullet hitting a soldier’s water bottle, small stuff). On a technical level, the set pieces are mind-boggling. Their construction, assembled from multitudinous components, play as if filmed in one take. Sure, all action sequences are built this way, but their mechanics are almost always too obvious to sustain their illusion. This distance between movie-world and reality is one of cinema’s most significant limitations. Spielberg’s mastery of production damn-near eliminates that distance.

The only person who threatens to pull the viewer out again is that same man on whose genius for filmmaking Private Ryan’s success relies. Spielbergian sentimentality has never been my favourite of his qualities, and there are moments, thankfully fleeting, where it starts to creep into his otherwise unflinching portrayal of war. Some sentimentality is good, and I appreciate the heart which imbues our leads here, in no small part down to consummate performances across the board. But the final lines are regrettably weak, the point we cross over into Spielbergian mawkishness. I should stress this is a nitpick, so don’t let it dissuade you. The sleight of hand behind the camera is a marvel to behold, and behold it we should.

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