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10 September 1998 Edition

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Cinema: Saving Private Ryan

War like you've never seen

Saving Private Ryan is a spectacular mix of the brutal and the sentimental. The battle scenes are bloody and unrelenting. In fact, by the end, in a scene where a soldier gets blown to pieces, it is no longer shocking - Hollywood has worked its magic and war is entertainment.

But earlier, particularly in an opening twenty minutes depicting the US landing on `Omaha' beach in Normandy, the action is as real as I've ever seen in a cinema. Or as real as we can imagine it to be. The scenes - filmed in Wexford - are gripping and harrowing as hundreds of US troops are slaughtered by German machine gunners firing from concrete pill boxes above the beach. Somehow a US Rangers unit - led by Tom Hanks - fight their way up the beach and knock out the German positions. As they look back at the beach strewn with bodies, the sea has been turned red with their blood.

Many of the scenes are filmed with hand-held cameras and at one stage `blood' spatters on the lens. It all adds to the dramatic intimacy that will have you literally on the edge of your seat. There is no doubt it is a masterful piece of film-making.

From there, the story begins. And it is quite a straightforward story. Three brothers are killed in action within a week of each other around the time of the D-Day landings. One brother is still alive but is behind German lines in Normandy. A battle-hardened squad is despatched to find him and bring him home. It makes for a classic Hollywood story and Spielberg directs it with his customary skill.

Of course Saving Private Ryan is also overlaid with Spielberg's trademark sentimentality. Faced with all-American (all-male) heroes fighting against all odds to bring a country boy home to his mama, what else would you expect?

That said, this three hour long epic doesn't flag for a second and is buttressed by great performances and stunning action. Go and see it, if only for that opening twenty minutes.

By Brian Campbell


An Phoblacht
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