Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Butler (2013)

I wish to offer repentance for not posting as much lately. I’m sure this isn’t necessary seeing how my blog doesn’t garner huge views, but I contribute my hiatus to not posting with Completely Charming, the Facebook page I was on. Combining that, the fact that my History thru Film class is done, the fact that I’ve spent ¾ of my summer working, missed opportunities, and (sigh) pure laziness, I guess the creative juices haven’t had a chance to flow.

And I can’t just wing one. My self-proclaimed job is to offer you my opinions at my freshest and passionate state. I thought that I would write reviews of recent films I’ve seen in theaters, but the two I have seen (Star Trek: Into Darkness & Fast and Furious 6) ended with me not doing a review, that of which I can attribute to it slipping my mind.

Anywho, that was then. This is now. The Spectacular Now! (Nah, just kidding. Although, I do desperately want to see that film)

Let’s talk about racism…in film.

Racism is an assuredly risky subject when it comes to film. When you don’t have to delicately handle it if you’re satirizing it, you have to meticulously craft it when it comes to straightforward dramatic fare. If you don’t elicit a real visceral response out of either the audience or, internally, through the helmers, it can come across as threadbare, preachy, or humdrum. Case in point: the trailer for the upcoming film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The life of Mandela had been done innumerably in film before and the prejudicial images are as common as you’ve seen in other films or, hell, even history lessons. God, does it look stagnant!

In The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels, whose film, Precious, transcended every film in 2009 on any aspect (acting, content, story arcs, emotion, etc.), there is a scene where Louis, the son of the butler, takes part in a sit-in at a segregated restaurant. It is intercut with Louis’ college class preparing for it. The restaurant patrons, inevitably, grow restless, annoyed, and impatient. Customer scorn leads to employee insistence on segregation, which leads to violence. This scene isn’t just some flyby moment that displays commonly known aspects of racism. While I know about sit-ins, the sequence lands a good hard punch to gut, due to its enduring time length, thus allowing the themes of determination to be exuded.

What follows this moment? The Butler finds out about his son’s behavior and discourages it. It’s not the generic film concept of demand for freedom exceeds anything else. Contrarily, it actually makes an articulate, shrewd thematic argument on both sides of the issue. This is one of the rare moments of the movie that is not a scene, more a breath of fresh air.

The opening of the film takes us to Mason, Georgia. Cecil Gaines (The Butler) was born into slavery. After his father gets shot in the cotton field by the plantation owner, the estate’s caretaker takes him under her wing and teaches him the ropes of becoming a servant. He soon leaves Georgia and heads for North Carolina. After breaking into a pastry shop and getting caught by the owner, he teaches him how to be a butler, a craft takes him all the way to Washington D.C.

The film is skillful on a visual level. The film molds great luscious retro motif, which can be contributed to the evocative camerawork and lighting. Arguably, Lee Daniels’ primary forte is in the field of all-star casting. This year, Daniels has assembled the most celebrated, far-flung, and dexterous cast of the year. Along with Lee Daniels alumni, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey (who has no dialogue and yet emits a lyrical, pensive performance), Forest Whitaker plays the butler with cogency and confidence. Other cast members include Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, YaYa DaCosta, Terrence Howard, Elijah Kelley from Hairspray (another film that relates to racism. Ironic), rapper David Banner, Vanessa Redgrave, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Robin Williams, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda; a serviceable cast, if not transcendent. I don’t predict any Oscar buzz for any of them, but they definitely play the parts and play them very well.

However, the expansive cast is part of the problem with the film. It’s not the actors, it’s the film itself and the fact that the film is so hell-bent on the focal point: the butler. The film is much like the butler itself: it provides you with the goods and nothing more. It has such a airplane-like pace. It follows its objective, which is to show the butler as much as possible, and neglects any major stops. This prevents the film to obtain any tangible momentum or any meaty character development. In terms of the characters outside of the butler and the presidents, the film acknowledges their presences, but doesn’t assert their caricature completions.

The theme of the film revolves around itself. It is about the butler and, more than a few times, gets trapped on that theme and just gets caught in a circle. This is dreary because the butler doesn’t have much of an arc. He doesn’t have to overcome any particular obstacles. He’s just the butler. He does offer the occasional consolation, but he just acts as a butler. While some may argue that this augments the film because it may be argued that the butler can’t do more than his role given the racism during that time, he never provides us with any nuances to make that case.

This, for the most part, affects the film emotionally, too. Most emotional moments just never seem to resonate. It sort of enters the psyche, resides there temporarily, and vanishes. I couldn’t emotional invest with the romantic subplot involving Louis and his girlfriend because the plotline is just limp and disposable. The film almost wants to handle it uniquely, but in doing this, it basically doesn’t acknowledge its romanticism, if any. The plotline is basically dropped later on.

However, one part of that stanza above should be underlined: for the most part. The film finds potent eloquence in the relationship between the butler and his son, Louis. The film finds extreme pathos and complexities in this interaction. The way it unfolds, crumbles, and, eventually, how it ends is extremely touching. Also, the coda is extremely competent in how it amalgamates the context of the film, the historical context of the past, and the context of the now and still strikes an outstanding relevance.

 The film is 2 hours and 12 minutes, but I can say with no hyperbole that this is probably the most rushed 2 hour+ film of the year. But Lee Daniels, I will forgive and forget. He takes his central achievement, takes away the raw power and searing, unabashed emotion, preserves the other benefits, and simultaneously expands and subdues his new film. It doesn’t make for his most masterful film, but it makes for his most accessible one. And for Lee Daniels, that’s just fine with me.

RATING: Three out of four stars

Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

With forms of government such as fascism, totalitarianism, anarchism, and Bieber-ism (that last one, of course, isn’t real, but given his number of followers, you would think it is), I can’t quite call communism the worst form of government ever. Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t support it, what with its shady politics, lackadaisical economy, and lack of free speech. Its idea of equality for all is admirable, but it doesn’t work. Human nature would never allow it. Some possess a level of superiority that ranges from low to high. Others are cankerous racists. Communism is a method of manipulation. The government, while claiming to be about peace and parity, possesses a large amount of power and the power can, and has, been abused. Just read Animal Farm and you’ll see how it works.

Nevertheless, communism, while not extinct, had gone by the wayside, in terms of an igniter for relevant discussion. I’m sure there are people from the New Age who don’t see communism as a big deal; as just some failed form of government created by some “Santa Claus-looking dude.” I couldn’t exactly blame them for thinking that, seeing how we live in a free, capitalist nation. While there are certainly some remaining communist nations, we are not one of them. America, F*** Yeah!

But during the late 40s up until 1989, there was a huge communism uproar. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were at each other throats, the Vietnam War began, and an intense heaping of paranoia was felt via the Cold War. Hell, even when the fall of Berlin Wall occurred, David Hasselhoff sung at this magnificent event. It was very dark times. Anyway, back to the Cold War paranoia. When you hear this phrase, you most likely think of one man: Joseph McCarthy, the focal point for George Clooney’s 2005 directorial work, Good Night and Good Luck.

McCarthy, for the uninformed, was a senator who believed that Communists had infiltrated the government. Because of his absurd and invalid theory, he began an extreme process of redbaiting, accusing many people of being a Communist. The film isn’t a biopic of his life and beliefs, as I may’ve led you to believe. The film’s protagonist is, rather, Edward R. Murrow, a CBS television news anchor, angered by McCarthy’s actions. In a time where news reporters did merely news reporting, Murrow took to television and cut right to the point: McCarthy was wrong. Clearly, without him, we would never have the other biased, overly opinionated properties that preside our country today (FOX News, MSNBC, might as well throw in Perez Hilton’s blog).

For a film about such a groundbreaking, influential, non-conformist paired up with such uneasy subject matter, it is not a grand diatribe of McCarthyism that one would expect. The film is not a brazen, subversive piece of work. Its tone is blunt, but casual. It doesn’t even rely heavily of music. But why would you, seeing how the smoothly scathing dialogue is music to my ears? I’m sure some might oppose to its autopilot, dialogue-oriented structure of the film, but I appreciated it. The film is about thought, not action. It keeps the intelligence, but spares the emotion. This works, because it is a subtle film.

George Clooney, who also co-wrote the film, and Robert Downey, Jr. have roles in the film as CBS employees. While the film doesn’t emphasize their characters, they do deliver good performances. The standout, by far, however, is David Straithairn as Edward Murrow. He portrays Murrow with a charm that is both devilishly forthright and sincerely acerbic.

Also, on a nostalgic level, this film soars. The filmmakers do an excellent job in portraying the 1950s. They physically immerse themselves into the time period in more of a total and passionate way than most movies I’ve seen. The gorgeous black and white cinematography, the sporadic yet excellent use of music, and even the scrolling caption in the beginning, which gives the audience the necessary historical background, brings the viewer into the time.

I must, now, bring up the aspect of the film that was highly controversial in my film class: the ending. I won’t reveal the actual ending, but I will say that many of my colleagues were left confused and unsatisfied. I am mixed on the ending, but do have a final verdict. See, on the one hand, their critiques of the ending are somewhat warranted. It doesn’t really end. It just stops. And it does this at such an awkward part of the film that it left me asking, “That was it?” I was befuddled, too.

However, I’d rather be on the side of defending it, because on the other hand, the film is about a non-conformist, so logically, the film should conclude in a non-conformist fashion. One critique I heard of it was something along the lines of, “Movies are supposed to actually provide an ending.” (not the exact quote. I just paraphrased it). My rebuttal is that that is the conformist route. That’s what would’ve been expected. As opposed to offering us a clear-cut ending, it allows our knowledge of history to be activated and allows history to play out without the film laying it out for the audience. It swings for the fences, just like Murrow himself, but in a subtle form.

Subtlety is the glue that holds this film together. While it doesn’t allow the film to push itself into anything other than merely good territory, this still means it’s a good film. Seeing how I commended the film on what it tried to achieve, this is a compliment.

RATING: Three stars out of four

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

“This story is true.” This caption flashes in Ghosts of Mississippi’s preface. This possesses a blunt, hardline persistence behind it. Before this caption, director Rob Reiner reminisces on black culture of the 1960s in an attitude tinged with searing pain and surprising achievement. This does a good job in setting the mood for the film. Setting the mood is a field that Reiner seems to have intense expertise in, given the nostalgic narration of Stand by Me, the eerie location in Misery, and even the suggested pedophilia of North that affirms the uncleanliness of the rest of that piece-a-shit. But I digress.

In June of 1963, a Mississippian black civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, was gunned down outside of his home by irascible racist, Byron De La Beckwith. He was tried twice and found not guilty for the murder of Evers. This is the thematic lead-in for the film. The film presents to us the widow of Medgar Evers, Myrlie. She is indignant on the fact that the accused assassin of her husband is being allowed to roam free, permeating his white supremacy attitude everywhere. In the late 1980s, an assistant District Attorney by the name of Bobby DeLaughter decides to take on the case, despite the fact that most of the evidence has disappeared and the judge who got Beckwith off the hook is the father of his wife.

For a film with such a bulky historical theme and an intriguing historical event, one adjective I can surprisingly use to describe this film is: underwhelming. Part of the blame goes to screenwriter Lewis Colick. I’m not saying the screenplay is badly written. I am saying that the film does, occasionally, fall victim to some clunky script decisions. Colick barely gives Goldberg any screen time, even though she’s listed as one of the major stars of the film. There’s a revelation of Medgar’s brother that is supererogatory and clichéd. There’s a scene where the status of the case is presented via a voice over as time goes on that feels awkward and rushed. All of these choices seem to act as currents that sweep the film under itself.

However, the worst script choice involves the love subplot. Lemme explain. When Bobby’s wife, who is racist, finds out that Bobby has taken on the case, she leaves him and their three children. One day, when his oldest son gets into a fight with some kid because of Bobby’s beliefs and decisions, the son is taken to a hospital. Bobby meets a nurse, she compliments his actions, the camera focuses on his and her awestruck faces, foreshadowing music plays, and, sooner or later, the lovebug gnaws their necks, mauling the script in the process. It feels completely pointless, as if it’s part of a different movie. It completely ceases the initially compelling flow of the film. I guess the progression of a case involving racial tensions was just so dull that they needed a romance to invigorate it. Blow me.

Also, this film hits some resonating blows in the character development and acting section of the film. There are so many characters (a D.A. officer named Mr. Peters, Bobby’s wife, the mother of Bobby’s wife, Bobby’s father, Bobby’s children – two of which go way overboard in their Southern accents) that are not only given such slim development, but whose real-life counterparts portray them terribly. William H. Macy is present in this film, but it’s so embarrassing to seem him prowl through the movie in a superficial role. He had more dignity in Marmaduke. Even the man who portrays Medgar Evers hams up his death scene, painfully.

Hell, even Alec Baldwin is flawed. Now, I do believe he gave a good performance as Bobby DeLaughter. In everything I’ve seen from him, he is always oozingly cool and suave. He brings those admirable qualities to this film, too. He, convincingly, dives into the complexities, moral dilemmas, and wild feelings of Bobby. It’s spellbinding, really. However, I felt that he employed one of the most pathetic Southern accents I’ve ever seen in film. It alternately comes and leaves him. Regardless, he was good.

As was James Woods as Byron De La Beckwith, whom I was annoyed with initially with that shrill, quasi-black voice, but manages to encompass evil with his squinched lips and glaring eyes. He’s a chilling presence, despite his lackluster character development. He’s pretty much just a sneering criminal and one confrontation between him and Bobby during the final court case, in my mind, boiled down to having all the cinematic importance and craft of a bragging third grader. Whoopi Goldberg was practically a shoe-in for the role of Evers’ widow. And despite her lack of screen time, a ham-handed speech at the film’s coda, and the fact that she never ages over the course of almost thirty years (must be some really good skin cream), she brings an intense courage and boldness to her performance. Her emotional testimony during the final court case is a moment that works for her because all her emotions amalgamate and culminate, without going over the top.

These three main performances, along with a couple of others, are good aspects of the film. As is the compelling flow I mentioned earlier. The structure of the film is beguiling and sustains your interest. While I knew where the train was going, I still enjoyed getting there and most, if not all, of what came with it.

I said the film was underwhelming. I never said it was a bad movie. While I’m not going to condemn the film for being predictable, seeing how most people, myself included, know the outcome, I am a little disappointed of how rudimentary the film is. However, I’m the kind of person who likes to take what they can get. Thankfully, the film gave me just enough.

RATING: Three stars out of four

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Ah, we meet again, Eastwood.

In reviews past, I’ve discussed how Clint Eastwood has a palatable versatility on the tonal scale. I’ve personally appreciated how humble he can be in honing his craft while still making visual sonnets. He doesn’t have to include any special effects. Everything’s raw, genuine, and unabridged. His films from the 2000s I’ve seen from him juxtapose masterful cinematography with cold, savvy storytelling. From the naturalistic character study of Gran Torino to the lyricism of Invictus, modesty seems to be an undercurrent in his narratives, lately. His films are the equivalent of that pretty girl who doesn’t shove her beauty in your face.

However, whatever happened to Clint Eastwood films where the narratives are as overblown as the visuals? Whatever happened to Clint Eastwood films where the motives were lofty and the pretensions are sky high? Whatever happened to Clint Eastwood films that left one quoting it three years after the film was out? Well, I haven’t seen his films from the 2010s, but until then, I dunno. You’re not really gonna find the affirmative answers in Flags of Our Fathers.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how I cannot call the film “lofty” and “pretentious” when it’s not merely a Clint Eastwood film, but a Clint Eastwood war film, a genre that provides most of the heavier, direct, and extreme films, moreso than horror. However, there’s a little more going on in this film. The film does have hefty ambitions, though. It’s the first of a two-part saga, centering on the Iwo Jima era in World War II. Surprisingly, the film, told via flashbacks, doesn’t focus primarily on the battle, but more on the photograph that sprung from it: the picture of the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

You see, there is apparently more history behind the photo than one might think. Apparently, there was an implanting of the flag before the photo was taken. It was a glorious and proud moment. However, the Secretary of the Navy demanded the flag, which really pissed off the colonel of the Marines. His solution to the problem was to secretly take down that flag, put up a replacement flag, make the Secretary of the Navy think it’s the original flag, and the Marines keep the original flag. Six other Marines do this and a photo is captured of this merely petty event. However, this is the image that becomes implanted into the minds of U.S. citizens, who see it as a symbol of hope and courage. The Marines from this photo are brought home from war to be the heroes.

Back to the original burning question: How is this subtle? On the surface, I would ask myself the same thing. Eastwood’s knack for displaying an unmistakable visual prowess is here. The cinematography is astounding. In the daytime, it is translucent. In the nighttime, it is solemn, bathing itself in an austere, hazy color palette. All the time, it is poetic and whopping, even including a haunting and frightening POV shot.

The music is used poignantly and minimally. Its motive is not to evoke emotion. Its motive is to portray emotion and let you, the audience, do the rest. I also appreciated the brooding, grandfather-like narration. I also appreciate Eastwood’s brazen structure of the film. The film, as previously mentioned, is told via flashbacks. Sometimes, there are flashbacks within a flashback, proceeding afterwards to flash forward in a flashback. There may’ve even been flash forwards to the present and then, flashing back to a flashback within a flashback.

Confused? I’m not. I made it through Inception.

I think that it is absolutely ingenious. While I kinda wished that instead of flashing back in flashbacks, the film just simultaneously showed the idealistic glamour and importance of heroism with the macabre, lurid reality still occurring, the flashbacks can reveal a somber, aching, melancholic truth. The film is crafted in an audacious, unbridled fashion with, assuredly, sweeping battle scenes.

While watching the film, I found myself comparing it to Saving Private Ryan. The battle scenes in that film were gritty and visceral. This film’s battles are a little more artistic, sophisticated, and thematic, not quite going for the severe gore, with the exception of an extremely graphic image in a non-battle scene, and not going overboard with the shaky cam. Additionally, whilst the battles in both films denote the intensity of war, Private Ryan captures more of the danger, whereas Flags of Our Fathers captures more of the fear. During the former, I felt tense. During the latter, I felt sympathetic.

I described the film’s battles as thematic. The thematic area is where the modesty of the film can be found. The film impressively portrays themes of commitment and friendship, but the thematic highlight of the film involves the unobtrusive yet provocative theme on what a hero is. The philosophy of Saving Private Ryan was manifest, expected, and passé. Here, it’s taut, restrained, and thought provoking. A whole slew of questions entered my brain: What classifies as a hero? Do heroes actually exist? Is it the actions one does or is it doing something at the right place at the right time? Is it right to act like a hero to offer optimism in times of distress or does that make you a phony attention whore? Should people feel an obligation to be treated like heroes after they accomplish “heroic” acts?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film where so many questions have appeared in my brain in such a sudden yet sneaky manner. The film also provides some wry commentary on the excessive, occasionally ridiculous, nature of WWII propaganda. When the film shows scenes of women singing corny WWII songs, you can feel the film incredulously chuckling to itself.

Even some of the imagery is controlled. When the surviving “heroes” go to a banquet and the film shifts to a shot with ice cream in the shape of the photo, which has fudge with a somewhat red shade poured on it, it’s one of the most cleverly acerbic and fiendishly poignant scenes I’ve seen on film. Also, it’s a miracle that, given Clint Eastwood’s Republican background (which I don’t see how that can be, seeing how he supports gay marriage), he doesn’t emanate a right wing, overblown, “USA” attitude.

Another facet of the film that blew me away was the character development. You know that in some war films, I find the development of the characters recycled, sparse, and banal. This pet peeve was mine was present in scenes before the Iwo Jima battle where the characters are depicted as the same old testosterone-encompassing punks who say quasi-funny dialogue and have thin personalities, which was one of my main issues with Saving Private Ryan. However, once the hero aspect of the film came into play and even during the battle scenes, the characters began to obtain depth, weight, and texture.

Even some of the other characters, outside of the Marines, are meaty. For example, there’s this one man who discovers the fact that the widely beloved photo wasn’t the real, essential photo. This angers him and pretty much tells the present “heroes” to act as the concrete heroes. He brings us financial reasons, but he isn’t some superficial, sneering, money grabber. He actually backs up his outrage with legit historical context. His perspective makes sense.

Even though I couldn’t name a single familiar actor from the film until I looked it up on Wikipedia (some of them include Ryan Phillippe, Paul Walker, and Barry Pepper), the Marines are far superior actors in this film than in Saving Private Ryan. I even remembered the names of some of them. My favorite was Ira Hayes, portrayed by Adam Beach, because I felt that his characterization was the most complex, impressive, and sober. He hates the idea of leaving his unit to go be a “hero” and his post WWII life is unfortunate and sad. His outcome is portrayed with spare composition, beautiful landscapes, and a gentle acoustic score. This solidifies that heroism isn’t synonymous with simplistic glamour, whether it’s before, during, or after it. The film gets a little schmaltzy and maudlin towards the end, but instead of groaning, I found myself buying it hook, line, and sinker. It worked because we are given adequate development for all the characters.

Partial credit for the brilliance of the screenplay goes to one of the two writers Paul Haggis, director, producer, and screenwriter of Crash, one of my favorite films. The other screenwriter is William Broyles, Jr., who penned Cast Away, Jarhead, The Polar Express, and a bunch of other films. Credit for the brilliance of the film, as a whole, goes to everyone. Spielberg assembled a well-oiled machine that got up and over the hill, but not without a few spurts of failure. Eastwood assembled a well-oiled machine that goes up and over the hill at 140. Eastwood, you’ve made my day!

RATING: Three-and-three-quarters stars out of four

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I gotta be honest with you. In terms of films, war films do not receive the highest exaltation in my book. Now, I’m not saying war films are bad, quite the contrary. What I am saying is that I feel that we have, basically, exhausted every possible way to do a war film. A film describing the horrors of war? Seen it. A film describing the psychological toll of war? Seen it. A war film bathing itself in shallow heroism? Seen it. A film that takes war to task on a philosophical level? Seen it.

In my opinion, many war films boil down the same way: A series of one-dimensional cardboard cut-out archetypes act like testosterone-infused punks, say quasi-funny and occasionally perverse dialogue, give their background via routine, sapless conversations or images, such as the man who just wants to be back with his family, have a majority of overly portentous speeches, and a majority of them get killed and everyone finds it more horrifying and byzantine than expected. Done.

At this point, all of it feels so premeditated and distant. While some war films may have been the best thing ever back then, watching some of them now just reinforces my complaint with them. Now, to be fair, I’ve only seen a few war films. The information I am gathering is coming from personal observations and possible assumptions. Of the war films I have seen, I do, however, think they are, despite my issues with them, really good. Really, really good. And how can Saving Private Ryan not be really, really good, seeing how it’s made by the really, really good director, Steven Spielberg? The answer is: It can’t not be really, really good, because it is really, really good. #tonguetwister

Now that I’ve soiled the word, “really,” let me discuss the plot of the film. The film opens with a shot of an elderly man in a cemetery, which has the fallen soldiers of World War II. He sees the surfeit of tombstones and breaks down. Through his eyes, the film takes us back to the Omaha Beach assault in 1944 with the U.S. army squad at battle led by Captain John H. Miller, played by Tom Hanks. After the assault, which I will discuss later, it is revealed that there are four brothers of the Ryan family fighting in the war. In a plaintive and haunting scene, we learn that three of them have died in action. However, the fourth brother, James, is missing and Miller and his squad are ordered to find him and bring him back home.

Now, some of the issues I have with other war films are here, mostly the inadequate, plastic character development. The almost cartoonish testosterone is still there. The dissonant, forced humor, albeit there is one scene referencing an EE-breasted girl trying to fit into a 42 D bra that is consistently and fluidly funny, is there. The sluggish, threadbare conversations are still there. The rote dialogue involving the honor and dignity of fighting is there. There is even one character, a klutzy, tender soldier, who isn’t funny, interesting, or very likable, and basically only serves as the inevitable, philosophical backbone. The characters are so wafer-thin that you pretty much immediately forget their names. Plus, not only are the actors portraying the soldiers subpar, but some supporting cast revelations seem out of blue, like, “Hey, there’s Vin Diesel! Look, it’s Paul Giamatti! Hey, it’s Phoebe’s brother from Friends!” And there is a final shot of the American flag that is a little nationalistic and severely pandering that it’s cringe inducing.

However, there are two characters that are thoroughly realized. One of which is Captain John Miller. Every beat with him is enthralling. Thanks must also go to the actor portraying him. Tom Hanks shows us his versatility as usual as he plunges into his role with assurance, virility, and authority. His performance is also very nuanced in a bold way. When you’re dealing with a character that, after commencing his men to shoot a German man, sobs intensely, this is a very complex role and Tom Hanks handles it exceptionally. The other character that is made out of meat, not cardboard, is Private James Ryan. While the reaction to the discovery of him is profoundly under whelming, Will Hunting himself, Matt Damon, who plays Ryan with a muscular magnificence, briskly rescues the scene. Like Hanks, Damon delves headfirst into Ryan’s perplexity and deep internal duty. The ideal that Damon would rather sacrifice his own life than save it is really revealing.

In terms of the technical aspect of the film, do I even have to comment? It’s freaking Spielberg. One aspect of the film that everyone talks about is the opening Omaha Beach battle. I’ve heard so many cinephiles raving about how it’s one of the best moments in film, one of the best battles filmed. Pretty much if you review this film and refuse to mention it, one might get hanged by their thumbs. All I can say is…damn!

This is one of Spielberg’s most ambitious film moments. I mean, this scene is talked about for good reason. Spielberg uses every technical gimmick imaginable: explosions, constant dialogue, absence of audibility, lurid moments, booming audio, slow-mo, Dutch tilts, close-ups, shaky cam (which ranges from richly abrasive to overkill), great POV shots, squirting blood on the camera, etc. It’s overwhelming yet remarkable. It is gritty, extremely graphic, realistic and palpable and the longer the scene progresses, the tension, anxiety, and desperation progresses further. All of the battle scenes are immaculately choreographed, despite the overuse of the shaky cam. Seriously, was the cinematographer having a seizure?

As predicted for a Spielberg production, the cinematography is massive, adopting a grave color palette of grays and muted blues, which really encapsulates how lugubrious and dangerous the environment was around them. There’s even a shot of the soldiers’ silhouettes coming over a hill that is almost an oblique homage to E.T. The camerawork can also adjust its speed and yet still retain its primary motive: to show the brutality of war. When the camera is spry or slow, it compliments the ugliness of war. However, while the film describes the horrors of war, it is not about the horrors of war. It is more about the ferocious determination and intense complexities present in this certain situation. The progression of the journey is absolutely beguiling, despite its unnecessary beats.

I seem to keep falling back on my opinion that there are a lot of trivial, expected moments in the film. This should affect the emotional level of the film, but not really. While there are a lot of labored emotional moments, the genuine occurrences of emotion are actually spot-on. The revelation of the identity of the old man from the beginning is surprisingly unpredictable and it leads to a shot before the final, pedantic shot that is actually really inspiring and sad. Also, when Spielberg allows the voiceovers of letters to the families of fallen soldiers to overlap while the writers incessantly compose them, it’s one of the most heartbreaking, gut-punching, and puissant moments in film history.

To be honest, Saving Private Ryan doesn’t totally work as a war film in itself, per se. The battle scenes are magnificent, but there are too many shopworn clichés and a banal supporting cast.. However, the film is more centered on the mission to bring Private Ryan home. Take that plus the battle scenes, the incredible performances by Hanks and Damon, and Spielberg’s usual brand of crafty filmmaking, and the film really works.

RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of four