Tom Hanks Project – Saving Private Ryan Review

17 Jun

saving_private_ryan-10055We’d been putting this one off for a while. Sure, we got engaged and went to New York since our last Hanks review, but even if it was a quiet weekend in Austin, the most violent Hanks movie of all was going to be a tough watch for Caitlin. “Saving Private Ryan” was the film she feared the most when we started this project*. I love this movie. I’ve seen it half a dozen times and thought it got robbed of best picture Oscar by “Shakespeare in Love.” I hoped Caitlin would be able to get past the admittedly enormous amount of violence and find a way to enjoy the film.  As one could have expected, she ended up watching the majority of the movie through a sleep mask as I narrated the action to her. Still, she not only found a non-Hanks favorite character, she cheered when Matt Damon first appeared**, and cried at the ending. That’s as good as we could have hoped for.

*Not that I’m looking forward to Road to Perdition, either.

**I feel the need to clarify here:  I did not cheer because I’m a Matt Damon fan. I cheered because I was so excited for our troupe’s journey to be close to its end…or so I thought.


“Saving Private Ryan” is the story of the D-Day invasion and the mission of one company to find a soldier whose three brothers have died in combat. We pair Hanks and Spielberg for the first time* and it’s an instant classic, that was hailed as one of the most realistic portrayals of war ever on film. Hanks plays the stoic Captain Miller, who leads his men courageously, while revealing very little about his personality**. We knew that the first 30 minutes or so was going to be more than Caitlin could bear. But once we got past the D-Day invasion, we settled in for over two hours of a beautiful story of a heroic group of guys sacrificing their safety for the sake of one man and felt the feels.

*That is crazy to think about! It feels like these two were meant for each other.

**I disagree with this take somewhat. We get lots of close-ups of Miller’s hand shaking, before we even find out that his troops view him as “stoic,” and when his profession is ultimately revealed he becomes very human, indeed. There are glimmers all over the place of the man behind the soldier.


Of course Caitln’s favorite character was the translator* who was deathly afraid of combat. She knew going in that Hanks dies, but was terribly afraid that her favorite guy would die as well. I managed to keep it a secret. We didn’t mind when Vin Diesel died early on**, was tough seeing the sniper die, seeing Phoebe’s brother die, Chandler’s weird roommate stabbed, and the Toms (Hanks and Sizemore.) We got emotional at slightly different points, but both got a lot of dark laughs out of this one.

*It’s tough to consider him my favorite character at this point, knowing what I know about the part he plays in the story. He does things for the right reasons, but in war, that seems to lead to the wrong outcome so much of the time. I always said he was my favorite, “…besides Hanks, duh,” so when you get to the end…I just don’t know.

**Truly, did not care an ounce. I think my reaction was, “Bye, Vin Diesel!”

Laughs Zack: 14 Caitlin: 15 It’s surprisingly funny. A lot of “Oh, god. That’s funny because of how darkly sadistic it is” kinds of laughs, but laughs nonetheless. There’s also a nice mix of soldier bonding humor, like the joke about what FUBAR stands for. I honestly don’t remember why I ever laughed. I don’t remember doing it, but the numbers don’t lie. This is not a film you put on to laugh.

Comedy: Zack: N/A I mean, it’s a war movie. The laughs are there to mix things up, but I can’t give this any kind of ranking in good faith. I’d feel pretty ridiculous saying it was a 6 comedy or whatever. The few laughs are dark. It’s D-Day, C’mon.


Cry: Zack: 1 Caitlin: 1 Caitlin’s tears came hard and heavy when Hanks was dying in battle after telling Damon to “Earn this.” I usually cry when old Damon is at the graveyard pleading with his wife to tell him he’s led a good life, but I cried earlier when I saw Caitlin losing it. She found the last scene a little corny, so it didn’t affect me like it normally does. I think the bookend narrative of old Damon was a 100% unnecessary “Hollywood sheen” touch, so by the time the true ending rolled around I was like, “OK yeah sure.” But when Hanks is dying? I DIE. I DIE.


Eye cover: Zack: 0 Caitlin: Off the Charts I was locked in. I can handle some war violence. On the other hand, this was by lightyears the most Caitlin covered her eyes. She seriously saw maybe 20-25% of the first half hour of the movie. I was narrating every bit of physical action on the screen. You see that photo? That’s how I made it through this movie. And I barely did. I had some horrible, horrible nightmares that night. Yay Friday night.

Romantic Interest: Zack: N/A Hanks has a wife, but if his response to his solider is “that one’s for me” when asked about memories of his wife, then we wouldn’t be right to rank it, would we? Psh, opposite reaction from me. He starts to describe her pruning the rose bushes, wearing his old work gloves. You know that love is TRU. I feel so sad for the widow he leaves behind 😦


Hanks: Zack: 9.7 Caitlin: 9.7 Pretty exceptional Hanks role. Captain Miller may have a a shaky hand, but who isn’t following him into battle? He’s so quietly dignified and wise and knows exactly how much to give his men to let them in, but still keep enough to himself so he has something that’s just his to hold onto. We know so little about him, but feel like we know him. I think Hanks could have taken his third Best Actor Oscar for this one, but I’m OK with Benigni winning for “Life is Beautiful.” I’d say we are given enough. We’re given enough to know that Captain Miller is indeed a good man, and that he’ll choose the right thing to do even when it isn’t the most strategic choice in war (and ends up getting him killed in a horribly frustrating roundabout way). He is fiercely devoted to his men, and the cause, but he’s also a damn school teacher in over his head in many ways. He was the perfect “everyman” soldier, someone we could all look up to and admire and feel so lost about when he dies.

Movie: Zack: 9.7 Caitlin: 9.4 It’s my third favorite Hanks movie we’ve seen so far, only behind Gump & Big. It’s an important war film, but one that’s surprisingly re-watchable unless you’re Caitlin. It’s got a lot of heart, is technically brilliant, and does veterans proud. My grandfather thought it was a great film and if it was good enough for a WWII vet, it’s good enough for me. I’m honestly not sure where my ranking puts this film in my lineup this far, but even though I chose to have Zack describe a guy holding his guts into his stomach instead of see it with my own two eyes, I’d say that after that first 30 minutes of utter horror, I got completely sucked in to the story and lost in it and rooting for the guys, even though I kinda knew what was coming. I’m glad they didn’t kill off EVERYONE in the little troupe we come to know and care about, but Hanks’ loss is devastating in a way that puts a period on the end of the “war” statement. This is why the opening and closing scenes with Old Private Ryan are so frustrating to me. It just feels SO unnecessary to have a neatly packaged film like that, so that we all get to walk away feeling pseudo-satisfied that our dudes didn’t die in vain. Guess what? The world isn’t overrun by fascist Nazis! That was the cause that we fought for, that’s enough reason! But outside of that, and the parts I didn’t see, I thought this was a really carefully plotted and engrossing feature film. Now wait right here while I never watch this again. 


One Response to “Tom Hanks Project – Saving Private Ryan Review”


  1. Introduction to The Tom Hanks Project | rockloveaustin - June 19, 2014

    […] Saving Private Ryan – 1998 Review […]

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