Captain Miller: You want to leave? You want to go off and fight the war? All right. All right. I won’t stop you. I’ll even put in the paperwork. I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.
R: Once, not long after it came out. I was probably still in school…
F: Also once a long time ago.
R: This film isn’t great for the squeamish, is it?
F: Definitely not! Lots of blood and pain. But to be honest this is what a war film should be. It shouldn’t be an easy watch. Although the intestines on the Normandy beaches were a bit much!
R: Yes a sanitised war film has the potential to be a lot more distasteful than one with all the blood and guts you get here. But there’s obviously more to making a good war film than painting the screen red. Speilberg does a great job with this of putting the audience in the middle of the action. The shaky cam – deployed so successfully here it’s now become ubiquitous in action scenes – is really smartly synced up with the audio, so at times you do almost feel like you’re experiencing events through your own senses.
F: The camera work and direction is exceptional here, especially during the big action set pieces. That opening scene at D Day is quite something isn’t it? Perhaps the most realistic depiction of battle ever put on screen.
R: It’s got to be one of the all time great military scenes. But that does make it even more frustrating that the central conceit of the plot is so totally unbelievable. I mean, there’s not exactly a shortage of amazing true stories from World War II. But no, we have to have this nonsense of generals giving in to sentimentality instead of doing their jobs.
F: Doesn’t it show the completely different world the generals in their nice safe war rooms were living compared to the men who were actually on the front line? It’s all very well reading out letters from Abraham Lincoln to justify sending a group of men on a dangerous mission to save just one, but that’s not how Tom Hanks and his men would see it. But propaganda is a huge part of war and perhaps they feel putting a face to the soldiers would boost morale back home. I do think the central plot is just a device for us to see these conflicting views of how to fight the war.
R: Don’t disagree with you, but I’m still sure there are real world examples they could have gone with. Or if they didn’t want the controversy that would have come with criticising American veterans, at least make something up that’s not so absurd. It took me out of it a little bit.
F: It didn’t bother me so much. Just to go back to the D Day scene for a minute, I was really impressed just how immersive it felt. The fact you never see the opposing soldier’s faces as they are shooting down to the men on the beach highlights just how much of a lottery it was whether someone survived or died that day. And also the fact that many of the soldiers were sea sick as they approached the beach! It’s a little detail but helps to highlight the research which went in to making the scene as realistic as possible.
R: Yes it’s filmed in a very documentary style, and the result is a brilliantly horrifying sequence. And despite my qualms with some of the story I still found the film overall very affecting – certainly more so than when I watched it as a teenager. Perhaps because it feels like we’re closer to World War III now than at other time in my life?
F: It’s too scary to think about! A World War now would surely be very different to that from World War II though? Comparing to the other war films on this list so far, I certainly found this more engaging than Platoon. I think the characters are more genuine for a start.
R: Yeah I think on the whole the characters in this are better fleshed out. Although is it true of the leads? Captain Miller in this is – a bit like the protagonist in the last film we watched – pretty faultless. Whereas I think Chris in Platoon is a more flawed and interesting character, and gives you more to think about. I know you find Hanks a much more likeable actor than Charlie Sheen (an opinion shared by a majority of people I suspect!), does that impact your judgement here do you think?
F: Perhaps but I just find the soldiers in this more ordinary than those in Platoon. Perhaps that makes them boring in some way. I actually think the character through which we gain the greatest insight is Cpl. Upham, the translator who is suddenly thrown on the front line. He is terrified of where he has found himself and what’s he been asked to do. A very genuine reaction I think! But I know you are a bigger fan of Platoon than me – is there anything in this you think Spielberg does better than Oliver Stone?
R: Lots of things! The action set pieces are much more intense here. And I agree the film benefits from Captain Miller’s squad being “ordinary” as you put it, and very relatable. On balance, this film probably packs the greater emotional lunch of the two. But this also made me sigh at its silliness in a way Platoon never does, and I’d say that with a war film, credibility is a really fundamental thing a film can’t afford to throw away so cheaply.
Is it worthy of the top 100?
F: I think it’s much better than Platoon and really effective at placing the audience in the situation of war. I’m going to say yes.
R: There’s lots to like but for me the plot falls short of top 100 material.