Saving Private Ryan

AFI Rank: #71 (10th anniversary ranking)
Year Released: 1998
Director: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper

This review is about Saving Private Ryan in the context of its inclusion on the revised AFI Top 100 Film listing. It was not eligible for the first listing, which finalized in 1996. But as soon as the AFI redid their 10th anniversary ranking, Saving Private Ryan faulted into the #71 spot, right in there with many beloved classics such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane. It was just that powerful.

On the first AFI listing, classics such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Patton gave us our view of war. Yes, War is Hell. Yes, there are good and not-so-good actions going on on both sides of the dividing line. But Saving Private Ryan brought this story to an entirely new level of cinematography. We weren't just watching a stage performance of how hard war can be. We were there, viscerally, in the deep of things, watching the world shake into pieces around us. We were shell-shocked from the sound, overwhelmed with the carnage, and watched as step by step our views on morality were eaten away.

It is stunning just how many amazing actors are in here. Even small parts are played by actors who in other movies would take the leading role. Ted Danson. Nathan Fillion. Vin Diesel. They are everywhere. Every character has grounding and reality and personality.

And these aren't all "super-beings" either. They have faults and weaknesses. They make mistakes. They trip up. Part of the joy of watching (and rewatching) the film is connecting with their humanity.

I do have to point out that it seems as if there are only two brief appearances by women in the entire, long movie. The mom who crumples wordlessly to the ground when she realizes how her world has just been changed. The transcriber who realizes that three men in the same family have just been slain. And that's it. I suppose Ryan's wife at the end makes a brief comment. Certainly I know this is a movie about war - but people complained about Patton having no speaking women at all. Here we are, decades later, and our progress is that a woman or two are allowed to say a few words each. I'm not quite sure if that's progress. Other war movies show how critical women were to the war effort and to how intertwined they were in what was going on. Here, we barely know they exist.

Still, if we're going to complain about that, we'll have to complain about so many movies that fall into this same trap. I think the only speaking woman in Platoon was a Vietnamese woman who said a few lines in Vietnamese. Clearly we have a long way to go.

So, that all being said, Saving Private Ryan is an incredible movie, and well worth watching.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100