Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-Two, Part One – ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. We are into the top fives now, and both men had a good score for their number ‘five’. How will their choices at four do? Read on to find out…

Yasser is up first and, having scored a maximum for his last choice, will be hoping that this World War II movie, made by one of the all-time great directors, will be similarly appreciated.

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
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Yasser: Fred! This week, I had you watch ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ – argued as one of the best WW2 movies

Fred: By some

YA: It’s the third and final Spielberg movie on my list

FS: Yes. All of them have been about war

YA: If it’s not war, it’s slavery, dinosaurs or aliens. There’s not much more Spielberg does, is there?

FS: Sharks? Archeologists? I think ‘Jaws‘ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘ are his best movies, you see

YA: ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is by far the best, for me

FS: I don’t agree with that. I wouldn’t even list it amongst his five best movies. I also think there is a number of WW2 films that knock it into a cocked hat

YA: Such as?

FS: Well, off the top of my head, I prefer ‘In Which We Serve‘, ‘The Great Escape‘, ‘Stalag 17‘, ‘The Guns of Navarone‘, ‘The Dam Busters‘, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘, and ‘The Desert Fox

‘Saving Private Ryan’
1998 – USA
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Matt Damon

YA: Okay – what is it you don’t like?

FS: I think there are some pretty dull stretches in ‘Saving Private Ryan’

YA: Which parts?

FS: There is quite a long section in the middle where they group of soldiers the story focuses on them deciding whether or not to take out a gun position, and all that follows it is a mix of base-level anti-war philosophy and macho posturing. I don’t care for the opening sequence on Omaha beach as much as everyone else does either

YA: Whoa! Hold on

FS: It’s too showy

YA: The 27 minute opening scene at Omaha beach is too “showy”?

FS: You see? The fact you know it’s 27 minutes long answers your own question. It’s self-congratulatory Oscar bait. ‘Look at our realistic legs being torn off‘. Fuck off!

YA: I can’t believe what I’m hearing

FS: Let’s compare it to ‘Schindler’s List‘ for a second. I don’t feel there are any scenes in ‘Schindler’s List’ that chase awards and recognition apart from the epilogue and Neeson’s “I could have done more” bit. They are the two worst scenes in that film. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ has Spielberg going for the plaudits by making this 27 minute long video game scene, instead of telling the story

YA: Mate, I absolutely love the beginning

FS: I know you do. I didn’t even have to ask. It’s so ‘you’

YA: It is graphic, but don’t you think it depicts realism?

FS: It is real to an extent, and there is a difference between graphic, which is okay, and gratuitous, which isn’t. It’s technically excellent, it just feels slightly masturbatory. Fine for dinosaurs, not for the horrors of war

YA: Okay. That’s a shame

FS: Why do you like it so much?

YA: It’s a feast for the eyes. It’s aesthetically appealing to me. You say it’s masturbatory, but why does that have to be bad?

FS: Should we be looking at a scene depicting a real and horrific event and thinking ‘cool’?

YA: Yes and no. No, not cool that this shit happened. Yes it is fucking cool how realistic they’ve made it for a bullet to pierce someone’s gut and for their insides to spew out

FS: It’s needless

YA: I was under the impression you liked the film

FS: I do, I just don’t think it’s an all-time great

YA: Fred, you like the older films. I do too, but the world of cinema has evolved, some ways for the better, some for worse. If they can make pictures of people getting shot in the head and a mist of blood coming out of the exit wound at the back, what’s wrong with that?

FS: Nothing. They just don’t have to linger on it in order to justify the time and expense that went in to getting that shot. Some of the best war films ever made got by without that level of detail. Scenes like that mean less than the story, screenplay, acting and direction when it comes to evaluating if a film if ‘great’ or not

YA: Was there anything about the film you DID like?

FS: Lots of things. The acting was good, even though the list of actors is not an inspiring one. Tom Hanks is excellent as the everyman character

YA: I think it’s one of his finest roles

FS: I’d go along with that. Maybe his best. Tom Sizemore is probably the best of the supporting actors

YA: Sizemore has a bullish nature that was required for his role. He’s awesome. The other stand outs are Edward Burns, Giovanni Ribsi, Barry Pepper and Jeremy Davies, who plays Upham. I love his journey. Don’t you?

FS: I can see what they tried to do with him, but it’s more anti-war philosophy from the ‘Ladybird book of war film clichés’. We’ve seen this before. I like him and I’m certain he represents the true story of a number of reluctant soldiers, but I can’t say his story stuck with me

YA: I loved how he tried to be the good person he was raised to be. Upham, naive as he is, might not have had the heart of a lion, but he tried to remember right from wrong. In warfare, those concepts rarely take precedence

FS: I liked him. I just felt that whole section felt forced

FS: I think it’s a good war film, but a derivative one. There is nothing new in it, apart from your blood mist

YA: I have to admit I was slightly taken aback by what you said about the first sequence. Many veterans who watched it said it reminded them of the real events

FS: It’s a brilliantly accomplished technical achievement, but I’m on the fence about it as a film. I don’t find it memorable because so much of what happens has been done in other films. It kind of fades into the ether

YA: That’s so disappointing. Let’s talk about Tom Hanks

FS: I don’t think he’s ever been better. In some ways he’s the most realistic thing in the film – an ordinary man plunged into this situation and dealing with it as best he can. He’s not a hero figure. He has reservations about going to look for Ryan (Matt Damon), but he knows his duty

YA: He plays Miller very well. He’s thrown into a mission he doesn’t want. One of the best parts of the film is when Reiben (Burns), who is just a regular guy, decides to leave his post, and the way Miller gets him to change his mind is brilliant acting from Hanks. He’s got a few moments of brilliant dialogue actually – in the church talking to Sizemore, talking about his wife, talking to Ryan at the end

FS: I prefer those exchanges to most of the action sequences, really

YA: That’s the problem, Fred. You see the visual sequences as different from the dialogue. I think it’s because of what they’ve been through that those scenes go the way they do. What they experienced on the beach formed a bond between them. They fight for each other

FS: The movie is well made and well-directed, the story and the acting are good and it has some good moments, but I have to be honest with you about how I feel about it. I think I’m suffering from a form of battle fatigue, because nearly every film on your list is littered with epic battle scenes or graphic violence or both and I think I’m desperate for some variety. I think ‘Saving Private Ryan’ might be suffering as a result of that

FS: I know it sounds like I’ve been very critical, but I still think Spielberg is one of the greats

YA: I admire his technical ability. There is a clever scene where the rain starts falling and you hear gunshots

FS: You can’t fault his ability to make entertaining movies, or his attention to detail. Little touches like that one are the icing on the cake. The sound editing and effects are brilliant. Technically speaking, it’s one of the best films on your list

YA: I want to ask your opinion on something. It won a few Oscars – Best Director for one – but lost out on Best Picture to ‘Shakespeare in Love‘. WHAT THE FLIPPING HELL HAPPENED THERE?

FS: I think it’s a bit of a myth that it was a great injustice. ‘… Ryan’ is the better film, but not by that much. It was a weak year

YA: You and I won’t be on good terms soon (laughs)

YA: Is there anything else you want to ask me?

FS: Why is it in your top four? What sets it apart from other war movies, and other Spielberg movies?

YA: After watching ‘Band of Brothers’, one of the best mini-series ever made, I revisited ‘… Ryan’. I started to appreciate the technical brilliance of it. It’s fantastic. The direction is amazing, the acting is superb, and it gets you. It’s hard to describe, but the film is a journey of a set of characters and they go through so much together. It’s more than just a film full of battles

FS: That’s perhaps the least you’ve sold one of your films so far

YA: Let’s hear your rating

FS: This is one of Spielberg’s most highly rated films, a movie that brought him his second Oscar for direction. It’s very entertaining, technically accomplished and well acted but , as a WW2 movie, I feel it falls between the two stools of trying to be a rip-roaring adventure, and commenting on the senselessness of war. Other movies have pulled that trick off better. Two of the major drawbacks are that the film is derivative of others, and the scene on Omaha beach, whilst impressive, feels like a sequence specifically designed to chase awards. Looking at how much negative stuff I’ve said is not a fair reflection of what I think of the film. It’s not the best WW2 movie ever made, but it’s involving, well put together, and features an excellent central performance from Tom Hanks. The score is superb, and the look of the film, from sets to costumes to props, is top drawer. What a shame Spielberg’s natural showman impacted on the documentary feel he was searching for.

YA:

FS: I do feel the sheer volume of violent movies in your list is leaving me exhausted, this is a movie I’d watch and enjoy more than once. It’s not an all-time great, but it deserves 8/10

YA: I’m quite happy with that given how you were talking earlier. It’s a fair assessment, though I’ll probably look back on it and think it’s unfair

FS: (laughs) It’s not memorable enough for me. I could describe nearly every scene of ‘The Guns of Navarone’, but even though I’ve seen ‘… Ryan’ twice this year, I can’t remember which character is which

Next time: Yasser gives ‘Some Like it Hot’ the once over

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One thought on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-Two, Part One – ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

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