Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Retrospective

Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan.

For its 20th anniversary, we’ve reviewed Saving Private Ryan over on the Barnes Film Festival blog. It launched on 24th July 1998 over in America and immediately met with critical acclaim. Does it stand the test of time? Absolutely, this is considered by many film critics (and cinema buffs) to be the greatest war film of them all – if you missed it 20 years ago, or weren’t around, now is the time to catch up with a moving classic.

Saving Private Ryan

The scope of the film was phenomenal at the time, which was created by its gritty realism and ferocity. Those opening 20 minutes depicting the Normandy beach invasion remain enough to make even the most macho individual wince. Ever wondered why soldiers suffered such terrible shell shock? Here is your answer.

There’s an excellent cast, with our favourites remaining Tom Hank’s noble Captain Miller, whilst Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) and hawk eyed sniper Private Jackson (Barry Pepper) are charismatic, dedicated, and heroic. The notion behind the film remains unusual, too – a mission to save one man, the eponymous Private Ryan, after his brothers are all killed in combat.

Spielberg had already landed Schindler’s List on the world in 1993, a devastating film that keep the horrors of the holocaust (at a time when many far right maniacs are actively attempting to spread denial across the world) in the public mind. There’s also Empire of the Sun (Spielberg’s 1987 gem), a brilliant film about the loss of innocence.

But Saving Private Ryan has an extra special something about it – it’s gut wrenching to a whole different level, with the viewer thrown into battle as shells and bullets whiz around them. This is matched by an excellent script, stellar performances, and a soundtrack that really sticks with you – it didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture. Shakespeare in Love did. Saving Private Ryan should have. It’s a masterpiece.

Modern War Movies

Since 1998, war films have lent heavily towards Speilberg’s vision, furthered by his TV show Band of Brothers. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) is the first to make a slight shift, with the director’s trademark use of different time frames. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, in the meantime, went for a more grotesque level, to the point it was difficult to tell if it was a satirical black comedy or not.

Other efforts, such as the excellent TV mini-series Hiter: The Rise of Evil have taken on the ascension of Hitler and how he was able to rise the ranks despite being awkward and difficult (good timing and a demagogue, essentially). This included a brilliant performance by Robert Carlyle in a work that appears to have drifted into obscurity.

There was also the stunning Downfall (2004), a German production depicting, with terrifying realism, Hitler’s final days. Frankly, we’re happy to have more of such exceptional productions – it helps keep the horrible nature of war in the public conscience, which may help us to avert another one of these in the future. So long as they’re put together with due care, attention, and respect, they make for remarkable viewing experiences.


  1. An amazing review. Of these films I’ve only seen Saving Private Ryan ( a devastatingly moving film proving there is no limit to the spectrum of acting talent by Tom Hanks) and Schindler’s list. Both films worthy of the many accolades they received. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to see the other films you review here. It’s very appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Empire of the Sun is highly recommended, as is Hitler: The Rise of Evil (which is on YouTube, actually, in full for free). Hacksaw Ridge I’d avoid as it’s… bizarre. The gore just reaches video game level, even if Gibson did intend good with the film.

      But yes, what a film Saving Private Ryan is. It’s for the ages, this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t believe it’s 20 years since this movie came out. I saw it on first release – harrowing first 20 minutes.

    I did have an idea for a parody version in which Private Ryan grows a beard against regulations and the platoon then track him down to remove it might also have been in the works, but ‘Shaving Private Ryan’ never made it even to script stage, despite the killer title.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I watched it on TV for the first time in 2001 and the opening section was just terrifying. Changed what I thought of war, being 17 at the time.

      There have been a fair few puns on the Saving bit, especially now Matt Damon is famous and seems to be saved in every film he’s in. The Martian etc.


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