Tom Hanks is tremendous as Captain Miller; consistently in control, displaying determination and leadership, but not afraid to show fear and trauma to a point of breaking down. He’s so likeable and charismatic, radiating as a down-to-earth, guilt-ridden human being.
The squad has an excellent chemistry. Between the cheeky chit chat, the hostile arguments and the engaging night-time conversations, you get to know a little about each of them, and when push comes to shove, they are a formidably united, equal unit.
The storyline is powerful and enthralling. It’s so noble and heartfelt to ensure that James Ryan comes home safe so that his mother has at least one son alive in the midst of his other brothers’ deaths, and from there you are hooked and desperate to see them succeed.
The famous D-Day sequence is perfect; the best recreation of it ever in cinema. It efficiently captures the fear in the faces of the soldiers and the overall helplessness of the situation. They sure don’t hold back in the bloodiness, with the effects being as realistic as they get. The combo of the he guerrilla-style cinematography, intense sound design and lack of music really put you within the zone, and the immediate aftermath allows you to catch your breath as well as take in the horror that had just unfolded, giving it a measurable, palpable weight.
At no point does the action feel fake across the entirety of the picture. There’s such a brutal, gritty realism to it, making it easy to take seriously and have you physically wincing at the more painful, gory scenes.
There are a multitude of hard-hitting moments that each achieve the impact they seek: the Ryan brothers’ mother receiving the news, the recital of the Lincoln letter, the harsh twist of the wrong private Ryan being given incorrect information, and eventually the real James Ryan being told the news.
The excellent opening scene sets the mood impeccably; Harrison Young’s dialogue-free acting alone is powerful stuff, and it is bookended by an equally strong conclusion off the heels of an intense, suspenseful finale.
The spot on editing is pitch-perfect and the pace is absolutely correct, never dragging but never rushing, and because of the firm interest, the near 3 hours will fly by.
John Williams is beautiful and sombre, never being too grand or overblown, it’s at the right natural pitch in order to accentuate the emotional, bleak tone.
The variety of high calibre technicals lend themselves to the generation of this massive epic scope. This is not a small story, this is a major tale, and Spielberg’s direction helps to give it the majesty and respectable size that it deserves.