The trauma of war is made viscerally clear in Steven Spielbergs dazzling fusion of audacity, action and poignant human drama
A present participle in the title usually promises a film with light, ironical flavour: Driving Miss Daisy, Being John Malkovich, Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo. Not here. Screenwriter Robert Rodat imagined this colossal second world war blockbuster with absolute seriousness, loosely inspired by the real-life case of Sgt Frederick Niland, recalled to the US from the Normandy campaign on emergency compassionate grounds because all his brothers were believed (wrongly, as it turned out) to have been killed in action.
With this movie, re-released 21 years on, Steven Spielberg created one of his greatest films, an old-fashioned war picture to rule them all gripping, utterly uncynical, with viscerally convincing and audacious battle sequences. It was a staggeringly effective action film with a potent orchestral score by John Williams, candidly inspired by Elgars Nimrod. And it was based on a redemptive, quietist premise: the point of the mission is not to engage the enemy but to rescue an American soldier and spirit him away out of danger. Yet when the time of great trial comes, of course, no one is ducking the fight.
After a gruelling half-hour sequence depicting the beach landings, which reminded a new generation of filmgoers how terrifyingly low the life expectancy was for those in the first wave, we are introduced to our everyman hero, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), whose mission has been ordered from the very top: find Private Ryan (Matt Damon) on the field of battle, inform him of the terrible news about his brothers and order him home. Miller assembles a crack band of brothers: Horvath (Tim Sizemore), Reiben (Edward Burns), Jackson (Barry Pepper), Mellish (Adam Goldberg), Caparzo (Vin Diesel), Upham (Jeremy Davies) and Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) and they set off behind enemy lines on a desperately dangerous mission whose rationale the men not-so-secretly despise: it is Fubar fucked up beyond all recognition.