Welcome to the Pile of Shame. Throughout my years of ceaseless debauchery and frankly worrying video game addiction, I missed out on movies that many consider classics. If you’ve ever asked someone if they watched a certain movie and gasped when they said they never did, you know what type of guy I am. I figured that it’s pretty silly that someone like me who lacks the appropriate historical movie education is allowed to write on such an esteemed movie website as ours, and have since created a pile of classic movies that I will work through in order to achieve true enlightenment. This series will be my chronicle through it and you’re more than welcome to tag along. Also, expect some spoilers in there, if you haven’t watched these films already.
War movies are a dime a dozen. They’re pretty much the simplest way to frame an action blockbuster because half of it is killing your fellow man in dramatic combat sequences. I became desensitised to action movies a long time ago and war movies didn’t hold much appeal for me anymore because of how codified and simple they have become. However, there are a few war movies that are definite standouts that do things outside of the usual tropes and norms involved in war movies. Films such as Jarhead, where the focus wasn’t put on combat whatsoever, but rather the tedium and human struggle of modern war. I also enjoyed Fury because of its visceral nature and how it framed the squad you followed. However, I think I now have another war movie to add to my list and is arguably the genesis of many tropes because of how well it was done. The legendary Saving Private Ryan.
Saving Private Ryan is through-and-through a war film, but I would say that it’s the cream of the crop, the person in the penthouse and the gold standard of war films. I didn’t know much of the movie before going in, which was a good thing because the movie can easily be spoiled, and I’ve only heard tales of what an “awesome” movie it is. At first, I believed it would be a narrative-heavy movie that doesn’t focus much on action, and then I was thrown onto Omaha Beach on D-Day to the excruciating symphony of young men horribly dying and heavy gunfire. I was bamboozled, to put it lightly, and even though I’ve played hundreds of violent video games and have watched a lot of gory movies, this opening scene really got to me. It was harrowing. You could see the hopelessness of the soldiers that are basically rushed into their violent demise. Young men kissing crosses or family keepsakes and then being popped in the head and snuffed completely off this world.
The thing was, and which was a running theme throughout the film, was that this felt real. It was obviously a little glorified and gussied up with special effects, but man, my empathetic brain almost couldn’t handle this degree of agony and hopelessness. After the scene was done and Captain Miller and his crew managed to capture their part of the beach, I headed outside for a cigarette because goddamn. Then when the narrative started kicking in, I was engrossed in a different way. This motley crew of soldiers are tasked with rescuing a soldier that they have no relation to whatsoever and there is almost zero personal stake. You see, throughout the years of hearing about this film, I thought Private Ryan was a squadmate that was captured by enemy forces and had to be retrieved. Not at all the case, he was just a soldier who lost all of his brothers and got to be sent home because of that.
Captain Miller’s squad was a menagerie of distinctly different personalities and as many things in this movie, they felt real. All of them had fatal flaws, intentions of their own and beliefs that they don’t stray away from. All of them had a character arc, which is incredibly difficult to pull off in any movie. You could feel the resentment in them because they’re basically sent on a suicide mission to save a man they don’t even know and losing longtime squadmates along the way. Their convictions also get thrown for a loop a few times such as when Captain Miller wanted to clear an encampment that wasn’t really a part of their mission and the men protested.
It was the little moments that stood out to me. The dialogues in the church, the sniper reciting scripture as he shot enemies, the back-and-forth between the men that showed us their personalities, Upham cowering in fear and so on. The dialogue was also surprisingly intelligent. Outside of the usual soldier lingo being thrown around and the obscenities, there were thought-provoking moments within the sincere moments that the soldiers shared with each other.
Then when everything went to hell again during the battle for the bridge, my heart rate was at a constant high. The whole sequence took quite a while to conclude, but what many action movies neglect to do, there were moments within all of the shooting and shouting that were important. Upham’s entire emotional rollercoaster was something incredible to witness and I believe most of us would relate to him if we were thrown into that hellhole. The scene where Fish was slowly stabbed by the Nazi soldier was oddly provoking as it seemed like there was some kind of regret coming from the Nazi, as evidenced by him just walking by Upham cowering on the stairs.
There are many moments in Saving Private Ryan that I can highlight, but what it comes down to is that the movie was masterfully shot, directed and acted. There is almost nothing to fault it of. It’s the standard that any action movie has to reach. That level of evocative struggle and extremely human story arc is what makes this the award-winning classic that it is. It’s powerful. There’s not much else there is to say. I’m glad I got to finally experience it and that’s big praise from someone who falls asleep during action scenes now.
The Pile is still standing tall! Next time I’m checking out a controversial one. V for Vendetta
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