Like many Americans in the summer of 1997, I was really excited to see Spielberg's recreation of World War II. At this time, there hadn't been a good war movie since Full Metal Jacket which was really so good because of the basic training part. Come to think of it, most of the great war movies don't really have good war scenes. I suppose Braveheart is a war movie, but that's not battles with guns, or … well, AMERICAN!
Apocalypse Now's best war scene is the helicopters flying to the river and attacking that village. The Deer Hunter's war scenes are terrible, and the best part is the Russian roulette scene. Forrest Gump's
Vietnam part is pretty good, but like most flicks, it's a bunch of guys walking through the woods with guns in their hands. You get the idea. Until Saving Private Ryan, we hadn't really scene a war scene that was anywhere close to what Spielberg did with the beginning of this movie. Unfortunately, it was so powerful, not even Senor Spielbergo himself could bring us to that level of excitement again for the rest of the movie. Instead, we are treated to more realities of war. Vietnam
The rest of the movie isn't bad, it's just never as good as the intro. After all, anything happening after a climax needs to lead to an even greater climax, or at least another climax, and that never happens here. It ends up being about Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, that Jewish guy from Dazed and Confused, that weirdo from Lost, Vin Deisel, Giovanni Ribisi, and Ed Burns, yep, you guessed it, walking around, looking for Matt Damon and running into Sam "Mayday" Malone and Paul Giamatti along the way.
Even tougher than the lack of a second climax is that there are so many painful moments along the way. Though it's funny for me to say this over a decade later, but it's not easy watching Vin Deisel getting sniped trying to save a baby (that's why you never try to save babies during combat), Giovanni Ribisi telling a chilling tale of how he pretends to sleep so he doesn't have to deal with his mom (something we all do in our teen years I'm sure, which is sleeping in, waiting for your parents to go to work so you have the house to yourself), followed by Ribisi getting gunned down and trying to tell the other guys how to fix him. That scene is awful, almost as awful as Tom Sizemore's acting in this. As uncomfortable as these scenes are, nothing tops Upham's cowardice while poor Adam Goldberg is getting stabbed to death by a Nazi (poor guy can't even get over on the Germans in the movies, though one day I will watch The Hebrew Hammer). Sometimes movies have scenes that are unwatchable because they're too gross, something anyone can do, sometimes they have scenes that are unwatchable because they're not only too evil and scary, but they're way too real, and this is one of those scenes. It's right up there with those two witnesses getting shot in cold blood in
This is all done to show us exactly what the WWII vets went through, and seriously, no Americans deserve more respect than these veterans. It's this generation that turned our country into what was once the most powerful nation in the world. Maybe this was Spielberg's point. He probably could have made this a best picture winner if he wanted to, but c'mon, Ben Affleck and Shakespeare in Love was far more deserving, or he could have made this a more pleasurable movie that we could watch over and over again, every Memorial Day or something, but he went the reality route. A true testament to this movie's greatness is despite the fact that it's so painful from beginning to end, I still have watched it many, many times. This could be the last great film Spielberg ever makes, well, that is aside from whatever his next Indiana Jones' movie will be.