8:00 PM, 28th March, 1999
An elderly man walks amidst a sea of crosses near the beaches of Normandy and finding the grave of a fallen soldier falls to his knees, weeps, and remembers back. The next 25 minutes of the film, set at the Omaha beach landing on D-Day, 6 June 1944, is already famous. The landing had been a near disaster (compared with the four other landings) and there were heavy casualties. Steven Spielberg depicts the horror and confusion where soldiers are shot to ribbons while still in their landing craft or drown before reaching the beaches. Those who reach the sand are pinned down with no cover; death is random and brutal. Hand held cameras and special colour processing give these scenes a documentary look. The digital sound track is full of the sounds of whizzing bullets. Some scenes are sped up or slowed down giving a disorienting effect. (If you find these sequences hard to watch, bear in mind that the soldiers at Omaha were pinned down for up to six hours before the fortifications were breached!) When the breakthrough occurs, American soldiers shoot Germans who have surrendered (this is something you won't see in a John Wayne film).
The film then cuts to Washington where it is discovered that three soldiers, all named Ryan, have been killed on various fronts. They are all brothers and it is learned that the last surviving brother parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day. As grieving mothers appear to matter more than soldiers do, orders are given to find Ryan (Matt Damon) and send him home. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men (who had just survived Omaha) are assigned this task and the film debates the morality of risking the many to save the one. This group includes a gruff sergeant (Tom Sizemore), a cynic (Edward Burns) and a timid bookworm who acts as the translator (Jeremy Davies). Occasionally the film veers into the sentimental and the Germans are stereotypes but this is a small price to pay for one of the most powerful films of the year.