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Spielberg shockingly takes you into the heart of the D-Day landings action before following everyman soldier Tom Hanks on his Boy's Own mission into enemy territory
The first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan is a visual assault, acclaimed as one of cinema's most accurate realisations of warfare. Captain John Miller (Hanks), a schoolteacher turned soldier, is among the US troops storming Omaha Beach on D-Day. Acting as the eyes of the audience, everyman Miller takes in the horrors of the experience: men maimed, deafened and terrified. The sequence, with its immersive, handheld cinematography, effectively carries popcorn-munching film-goers closer to the brutalities of war than they would ever choose to be.
Subsequently our nerves settle only as far as those of the traumatized but professional Miller. Miller is called up to lead a small force ahead of the main body of troops to find one Private Ryan (Damon), the surviving brother of three soldiers killed in the same week, in a kind of humanitarian military PR gesture.
Despite the familiar characterisations in Miller's troop (Sizemore, Burns, Pepper, Goldberg), and the dubious waving of the Stars and Stripes, Spielberg takes a traditional boy's own war story and crafts an effective, moving film.
Thanks to Hanks, and Spielberg's technical finesse, this develops into a powerful and potent portrayal of men at war, and those opening 20 minutes are worth the price of entry alone.
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