Opening with the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Cpt. Miller fight ashore to secure a beachhead. Amidst the fighting, two brothers are killed in action. Earlier in New Guinea, a third brother is KIA. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three of the grave telegrams on the same day. The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of her grief when he learns of a fourth brother, Private James Ryan, and decides to send out 8 men (Cpt. Miller and select members from 2nd Rangers) to find him and bring him back home to his mother...Written by
Billy Bob Thornton turned down the role of Sergeant Horvath, because he did not want to film the Normandy beach scenes, due to a phobia of water. See more »
When Upham is hiding behind a cow while his squad rushes the communication tower/bunker, he uses a sniper scope to see his squad mates. Upham holds the scope differently every time. The two knobs would first be at north/west, and the next shot would be south/east. This will change several times until Captain Miller tells him to get the gear. See more »
[running to comfort his father]
[flashback to D-Day]
[shouting out the soldiers on the raft]
CLEAR THE RAMP! THIRTY SECONDS! GOD BE WITH YA!
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There are no opening credits after the title is shown. See more »
Differences between theatrical version vs. DVD
on the beach in Normandy Tom Hanks orders his men to take out the sniper that has them pinned down. Soldier after soldier die as they go around the corner while they have covering fire. There is a scene that was cut where he is telling a soldier (after soldier baulks) that they will both go out together. Tom counts down and fakes going out and the other soldier goes out and is gunned down.
Scene where they let the two German soldiers walk away - DVD version does not show them shot in the back as they are down the road.
I know it's fashionable to trash successful movies but at least be honest about the trashing... Pvt. Ryan was fiction but it was pretty good HISTORICAL fiction. The details were well thought out and based on reality.
There was nothing stupid about the portrayal of the German army... Rommel DID blunder in his placement of force, The high command DID think Calais was going to be the invasion spot, not Normandy. Hitler didn't wake up until noon on that day and his aides were afraid to wake him. The Rangers did come in right behind the first wave and did take a beach exit by sheer will to get the hell off the beach. The bluffs were the scene of heavy close fighting. The german defenders were mostly Eastern European conscripts from defeated areas. (note that the 2 men that tried to surrender were NOT speaking German). There WAS a young man rescued from interior Normandy after his brothers were all killed. He WAS an airborne trooper (the difference was that he was found by a chaplain and was removed from the front.)
The battles inside Normandy were small actions town to town, street to street, house to house. Small actions like taking the radar station happened. Small actions like a handful of men defending a river bridge against odds happened. Small squads of men, formed out of the misdrops banded together ad hoc to fight. There were all enlisted groups and all officer groups. A General did die in the glider assault. FUBAR aptly described much of what happened that day.
And there were only Americans in the movie because the Brits and Canadians were many klicks away in a different area... this was Omaha beach. The story was an American one. And Monty DID bog down the advance and everyone knew it. And as for "American Stereotypes"... well those pretty much define America: my college roomie was a wise-ass New York Jew. My best friend was a second generation east coast Sicilian. My college girlfriend was a third generation German. My first wife was French and English. I'm Irish, my boss is Norwegian and I work with a Navaho... you get the point?
So much for it being bad history. It was in fact an excellent way to let a jaded and somewhat ignorant-of-their-past generation *feel* something of what their grandparents (LIVING grandparents) went through. It is perhaps less important that the details be exact as the feel be right. Even now the details are not fully known or knowable about that campaign... it was too big, too complex and too chaotic to be knowable. There is not even an accurate casualty count of D-Day itself.
Now as to the depth of characters. What I saw there was the extraordinary circumstances into which ordinary people were thrown and what happened to them. I saw the things that would mark a generation (I have heard in my elderly male patients sentiments similar to what Cpt. Miller was expressing when he announced his ordinariness) I saw the dehumanization that occurs with war and its mitigation moment to moment, man to man... Cpt. Miller didn't know anything about Ryan and he didn't care... until Ryan revealed his humanity to him with his story of his brothers. Pvt. Reiban was ready to walk out of the situation until he discoverd his captains ordinariness and his humanity. Then he began to look to him almost as a father. Pvt. Mellish rightfully delights in his revenge for all the times he's had to take it because he was Jewish by telling German captives he's "Juden!" Nerdish Cpl. Upham can stand alongside his bigger, stronger, braver Ranger compatriots and describe the poetry and melancholy of Edith Piaf's song... then face his cowardice, turn around and stand up in the face of danger and finally demonstrate the dehumanization of the enterprise he was enmeshed in by executing Steamboat Willie... even though Willie had no more choice about being there than Upham did and in other circumstances would have made a friend.
I could go on and on with this but enough already. OK, perhaps it is not The Best Movie Ever Made but it is still a good movie. And if one will take the blinders of fashionable negativism off they will see it. Finally, this is not a patriotic story... if anything it is an acknowledgement and thank you to all those old men still out there that did so much for us. To them I say a deep and sincere thank you.
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