Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * ½

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When it is fortuitously discovered that three men killed while fighting in the Second World War were brothers, the US military decides that the fourth brother, currently serving in France, should be saved.

Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan is dull, maudlin, and manipulative. The director so mires the movie in his usual sentimentality and so burdens it with his standard hackneyed techniques that he undermines the possibility of any genuine emotional response on the part of the viewer. Even his characters are forgettable. They are all stereotypes and differ little from similar characters found in countless other films. They are so uninteresting that it is almost impossible to engage with them.

The Germans are even simpler. They are portrayed either as vicious, duplicitous fiends or their faceless minions. In either case, killing them is good. The one character in the film who refuses to slaughter the devils is consistently depicted as cowardly and is only redeemed, and made a decent man, when he has overcome his misguided scruples and sent one of the Teutonic demons back to hell.

The film's production values are excellent, but even its violent combat sequences fail to produce much emotional response because of their manipulativeness. Spielberg uses all the artful techniques he learned from such movies as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws in his attempts to convince the viewer to identify with particular characters portrayed as good and to fear and hate others portrayed as villainous, predatory enemies. Instead of feeling the heroism of the protagonists, however, I was horrified by their cruelty.

Saving Private Ryan is a plodding, sentimental paean to our own decency combined with a vicious tirade against the evil of our foes.

Review by Keith Allen

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