Film Analysis: Saving Private Ryan Movie Review



In 1998, Steven Spielberg directed a World War 2 film showing the events that happened during the Normandy invasion. The film was called “saving Private Ryan” and was based in Normandy and some parts of France. Screen play for the film was done by Rodat Robert with main actors being Tom Hanks asCaptain John Miller, Tom Sizemore asMike Hovarth, Barry Pepper asDaniel Jackson, Adam Goldberg asStanley ‘Fish’ Mellish, Vin Diesel asAdrian Carpazo, Giovanni Ribisi asIrwin Wade, Jeremy Davis asTimothy Upham, and Matt Damon asPrivate James Rayan.The movie was produced to depict a very dramatic, strong, and serious theme. Indeed the result is that it was successful in proving the historical accuracy of the Normandy event despite the minor flows which are common in all movie productions. This hypothesis will be tested and proved in the following analysis and discussions.

Story Telling

The narrative structure of the film is in the form of an elaborative flashback that occurred in the 1940’s during World War 2. An old Private Ryan is in the cemetery paying his last respects when the film takes us back to the actual time that the Normandy war and saving of his life occurred. The plot of the film is in a chronological order; from the flashback the plot has been orderly arranged to show various events that led to the actual mission of saving Private Ryan. Therefore, the story takes place in Normandy and some parts of France where American soldiers attack the Omaha beach and in turn a chain reaction is set that ultimately leads to a mission whose sole purpose is to save private Ryan—Matt Damon—and return him to Iowa.

There is a conflict of accurately showing the exact places where events occurred. This is solved by the producer naming new scenes and also indicating the exact years events occurred using sub-titles. There was also a conflict of whether it was worthwhile to save Private James Ryan, the last of four brothers all of whom died in action. Top administrators argue that it would be wasting resources but the chief of staff resolved the conflict by reading to them Abraham Lincolns letter to Mrs. Bixby. The letter made them pass a resolution to save the last brother. The same internal conflict also affected characters where several of them questioning the relevance of the mission. For instance, Hovath a cynical New Yorker was stating, “we are not here to do the decent thing but to follow fucking orders.”

There is symbolism used in the film, the kind used are old weapons, aeroplanes, and boats all helping to depict the accurate time war took place. Metaphors are commonly used in the story with an instance such in the earlier scene where the chief of staff compares the scenario of a mother at risk of losing all her four sons at war to that of Mrs Bixbie during the American Revolution war. Furthermore, there is a situational irony where the German soldier that was spared by Captain Miller ended up killing him at the end of the film. Satire has also been used frequently where one of the characters retorts that,” Ryan better be worth it-he better go home and cure some disease or invent a longer lasting light bulb.”

The film helps in relating with the storyline where it shows the pains that soldiers underwent in taking lives or losing their comrades. It also helps in painting the exact conditions that the soldiers underwent in the frontlines. The conditions were terrible with some of them wishing there was even a three star hotel nearby and even picking of apples in the field and eating them. However, the film does not address universal truths completely. Surely, there is the truth of showing accurate conditions that soldiers undergo in the frontlines, but it is incorrect for the film to show that Americans were the only ones who fought the Normandy wars. It has been proven that countries such as France, British helped out.


There are a total of nineteen actors with the major ones being: Tom Hanks asCaptain John Miller, Tom Sizemore asMike Hovarth, Barry Pepper asDaniel Jackson, Adam Goldberg asStanley ‘Fish’ Mellish, Vin Diesel asAdrian Carpazo, Giovanni Ribisi asIrwin Wade, Jeremy Davis asTimothy Upham, and Matt Damon asPrivate James Ryan.The types of actors in the movie are: Matt Damon and Tom Hanks as stars; Edward Burns and Tom Sizemore as personality actors when the latter showing loyalty and the former playing the devil’s advocate; and Davis acts as an interpreter and personality actor where he is seen to know both French and German plus being timid and hiding when violence surrounds him at the end of the film.

The acting in the movie isfilm actingwith actors required by the director to use method acting technique. In the technique, thoughts and emotions of their characters were created so as to develop life like performances such as in the case of Harrison Young, the present day Ryan who wept when remembering the sacrifice of the soldiers who rescued him (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005). Actors convey the story in the film through real emotions and thoughts which is helped by the director when he requires the usage of correct tone is communication, and focusing of the camera to a character when expressing emotions and thoughts. The movement of characters in the settings have enhanced the understanding of traits of the actors. For instance, hiding of Davis showed that he was a coward in the field while self less act of Howarth of allowing the team to move ahead while he fought the enemy in the end showed his bravery.


The appearance of themise en scenein the film is the reality of war where there were numerous bodies of war casualities, blood, destroyed buildings and property. Furthermore, there were no civilians signifying that they had been displaced. The lighting of the scenes in the film was different where in the present day scenes it was less diffused compared to war times. This contrasting lighting signified differences in times where in olden times the technology was not advanced. Furthermore, saturated colour is used in scenes showing present day while unsaturated colours depicted old times.

The shutter timing was set at 450or 900as opposed to the normal 1800timing. In that timing, a special staccato movement of characters and crispness of explosions make the film more realistic (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005). The camera in the film is subjective where if focuses more on movements, actions, and communications of American soldiers. This is advantageous in the sense of showing a good impression of life for soldiers. However, it was disadvantageous in giving the overall picture of war on the part of losers which in this case were the Germans. However, the director covered the flaws in the movie by introduction of special effects such as actual blood, penetration of bullets under water and hitting soldiers, and usage of real amputees in scenes.


The movie is divided into five scenes which are: the introduction showing an older Ryan visiting the Normandy grave in present time; scene of the attack at Omaha beach; scene back in America showing the mother of the Ryans and Chief of staff of the army; scene showing the rescue of the last Ryan; and the last scene is back at the cemetery. The shots in the scene were in a subjective form where the audience would view what the character views. The shots signifying the scenes were blended together in form of a cut (jump cut) where it seems inconsistent with the next shot. This is used to anchor the image of scenes being at different eras and places.

Coverage is used when showing the important themes in scenes that would aid in making the film organized (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005). This is used in scenes such news of three brothers being killed being noticed combined with breaking of news to their mother. The editing style used is continuous where it aims at achieving logical coherence in the film that contains scenes from various time zones. This is used in the film since there is a flashback by the older Ryan. There was also editing of actions that cannot be seen, an example is when the army arrived at the home of the Ryans, the mother collapsed in anguish even before being told of the bad news and then the scene changed without the messengers conveying their message. The rhythm of the film is not uniform since shots have different lengths. Furthermore, there is no instance of slow motion in the film signifying that it was indeed a real life event.


The film has few music tacks which are limited to the beginning and at the end of the movie. The music genre is a slow ballad specifically intended to illicit emotions that are to accompany the scene. However, natural sounds cover majority of the movie such as sound of rain, cows mooing, crickets creeping. Limited music is used to strengthen the realistic aspect of the movie where only dialogue amongst people and sound of weapons can be heard (Chick, 2008). Furthermore, sound effects are majorly used in combats where they are used to highlight the intensity and seriousness in which the mission was. However, there is no voice-over narrator as the film scenes are self explanatory.

Style and Directing

The director Steven Spielberg has shown technical competence where he has managed to portray an actual real life impression of how the Normandy war was. This was done by setting the camera to be subjective hence more expression of thoughts and feelings of soldiers. The editing, weapons, technology, and fashion used in the film show that the director did a lot of research to accurately place the timing of the movie. For instance, guns used were similar to the ones used in World War 2 and the shooting of underwater battles in the attack at Omaha beach showed that he used the best technology in shooting the scene.

The director’s point of view is evident as actors in the film seemed like they were comfortable in their roles hence showing they rehearsed for a very long time. The usage of few musical sound tracks, natural sound tracks, and extreme action movements also showed that he wanted a more realistic film. In addition, the film is similar to Spielberg’s past works which all have the basic concept of life in the World War 2 era. Other works of his having the same theme are 1941, and empire of the sun (Chick, 2008). Since the author is trying to bring out an image of World War 2, there is no non-traditional story telling techniques in the film. What he wants to communicate through the film is that indeed the War killed many people and that even survivors were affected for many years.

Societal Impact

The movie makes one feel like escaping the daily life since all aspects of the society shown signify society in the World War 2 era. However, dialogue between characters in the movie betray what the director intended to accomplish. Language and tone used is modern for instance “fucking son of a bitch.” Furthermore, there is so much violence in the movie shown by the uncensored version of the movie that I managed to view. The live maiming of humans and bloody combats even resulted to certain parts of the society like Malaysia banning the film (Independent, 2006). However, the film manages to address political and societal issues such as long term effects of wars on families and survivors, pressure on political leaders to go to war, and the hard task it is for soldiers to take human life despite it being their duty. The movie can be seen as an allegory for the negative impact of wars to families. This was seen in the movie when a mother was at risk of losing all her four boys in the war in an instance. Also, the old Ryan in the movie was so engulfed in pain and agony as he recalled the events as if they were recent. This assessment is true in real life, as when war veterans saw the movie in theatres, they could not finish it without their emotions taking over because of the real depiction of what happened (Independent, 2006).


The film is in the category of an epic film with characteristics such as: being set in a time of war or during a crisis; and covers a long span of time (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005). The historical setting of the film is in the World War 2 hence the reason why it is an epic film. The film is a pure genre film since there is no blending and the storyline being similar to real life story of the Niland Brothers. Elements such as honour, sacrifice, valour, and historical contexts can help one understand the film better. The film is however similar to western genres but deviates from it when the historical context of the film is set in a time of civilization.

Film Criticism and Analysis

The referential content in the film is the mission of saving Private Ryan. Every action and movement is geared towards finding the private and returning him home. However, it is ironical that when the team find the Private he did not wish to return back home which makes the title of the movie seem out of place. The explicit content in the movie is patriotism for Americans where, the country decided to save a lone soldier—a private—so that a mother can be saved from the misfortune of burying all her four children. Despite the bravery and patriotism, the soldiers who carry out the mission ridicule the move with some terming it as a misallocation of military resources. On the other hand, the implicit content of the movie is that of honour when, the older private Ryan at the beginning and at the end of the movie is seen to always remember and honour the fallen heroes that saved him. This is seen when he talks to Captain Miller’s grave saying he lived his life to the fullest.

The symptomatic content that can be used to analyze the film is the field experience of soldiers on the battle field and the grave scene that contained the older Ryan. The two contents provide proof of honour, pride, pain, and life experiences that occurred in the era of World War 2. Furthermore, in analysis of the film the best approach that can be used is a realist approach where the film is examined by how it represents reality (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005). This is evident when the director used natural sound tracks and no slow motion in the pictures to create a real impression of the situation. In doing so the director managed to make the audience experience emotions.


The movie saving Private Ryan was successful in depicting actual events that occurred in the World War 2 events of Omaha assault and battle in Normandy. The pictures were graphic, strong, and realistic up to the level of realism. The historical context was also accurate enabling it to become one of the best epic films in the last century. Despite many criticisms of violence, the actors and director were successful in painting the picture of life on the front lines of World War 2. The only demerits of the film were that it did not show the contribution of other countries like Britain in the Omaha assault, and the dialogue between characters was too modern to be put in the 1940’s era. However, the film was excellent and the producer Steven Spielberg managed to sell his view point of World War 2 to the audience.


How we made the best movie battle scene ever.Independent. June 7, 2006.

Pramaggiore, M., & Wallis, T. (2005).Film: a critical introduction. London: Laurence King Publishing. Pp. 6+

Tom Chick (December 8, 2008). A Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg.Yahoo!Available at:

Tom Hanks et al., (1999).Saving Private Ryan. Directed by Steven Spielberg