Throughout Spielberg’s filmography, he has tackled the elements of World War 2 and its upcoming years almost so exhaustively that by seeing his entire catalogue would provide a strong fundamental insight of the event; and each feature is tackled with a flavour of their own, cohesively held by his individual trademarks, and each one unwilling to be a repetition of the other. May it be the heart aching struggles of the Holocaust and the triumphant effort of a single man towards their preservation; or the thrilling and exhilaration of the first and third instalments of the Indiana Jones series, which finds a hero driven to stop the Nazi forces of harnessing the power of rare scattered artefacts; or the perspective of a young prisoner of war in the invasion of China by the Japanese, losing everything that defined him and coming out of it a fractured victim; or the exaggerated sense of paranoia that carried through the minds and hearts of Americans after the tragic assault on Pearl Harbour; or the horrific tragedy that was laid upon the fearing and hopeful soldiers as they land at the shores of Omaha Beach.
He is a filmmaker who truly understands the event like very few do, finding the most powerful and inspired of stories and communicate them through his audience in a way that is both accessible and entertaining; even if his intentions are dramatically grounded, at times we find ourselves immersed or escaped from our realities, transported to the conditions captured within the frame; and there is no better example of a film that achieves this than Saving Private Ryan, notably in its moments of chaos and desperation. We find ourselves right there armed and donned with military gear, staring up at the opponents who show a lack of mercy in their sights. They fire to hold us back, and we evade and scream to react and ensure our safety. Spielberg simply could have taken the route of an epic filmmaker like David Lean, composing scenes with intelligent and scope that places us far above the mayhem and take on a view of authority or grandeur that would inspire awe in its audience. Spielberg aimed to find a connection into the hearts of these soldiers, to empathise the struggles they had to endure, making the aura of danger and unpredictability palpable with every step from the start zone. It is 30 minutes of necessary mayhem that immediately introduces and comprehends the ideas that are taking form, accumulating to ensure the penetrating impact that would arrive later on.
This is Spielberg donning a new and harsher coat, never at a moment we find ourselves amused or grinning in moments of heat and tension, taking on a standpoint of violence with honesty and tragedy that very few filmmakers were able to provide since the end of the war; it is an approach that attains a sense of respect to those who entered, either successfully or have fallen, into the battlefield; and this is a statement that not only regards for the exhaustive perspective of Omaha Beach, but of the many moments of warfare after it, demonstrating war for what it truly is, a sacrifice of principles led either through forced or instinctive obligation that ends only with a bloody mess. Despite its detailed portrayal, Spielberg still manages to tap into the deeply shelved desire within us that craves for adrenaline and thrills, managing to balance accuracy and escapism without intrusive compensation that would jeopardise its integrity; a level of effort and respect that many action filmmakers should strive for. Even until now, many have tried to recreate the impact that Spielberg has left his audience with Saving Private Ryan, but I have yet to come across a film that proves to be as effective or as powerful.
The film finds its way into the soul of its characters as the film refuses to define its figures with identifiable simplicity; many of them do not carry the archetypal traits of one’s expectations of a soldier, they are simply a reflection of us, the trivial members of our society. They are instead defined by their attitudes and efforts that are empathetic and universal, demonstrating their hesitations and hopeful wishes in quiet human moments; breathing in between in its unpredictable pit stops of mayhem. Casting may have seemingly taken the route of ambition, with names like Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Paul Giamatti, Ted Danson, Vin Diesel, and Tom Sizemore, but once we find ourselves standing along these figures, they seem to be stripped form their status, slipping onto their roles with such ease and naturalism that they begin to embody the everyday man that they represent. Both Spielberg and his cast deserves an abundance of the given praise as without their efforts of capturing an atmosphere of such accuracy and grounding, then this wouldn’t have been the film that it has become.
The film finds its footing immediately at the soldiers’ arrival of its early high point, providing audiences with an experience like no other, one that could have only been possible by the deep seeded passion and dedication that Spielberg carried for the fallen soldiers and its survivors during its production. It finds the essence of war even in the most chaotic of instances, translating to its viewers through haunting visual imagery and penetrating and accurate first hand embodiment of the soul of a soldier. Spielberg finds himself once again at the pinnacle of his abilities.