With Remembrance Day coming up on Saturday, I figured I'd at least put some focus on war films. And yes, whether you like it or not, 'Saving Private Ryan' is being recommended right now. The reason I say this so plainly is because it seems to be a film that audiences are very split on. Some say "good story with a lot of realism", others say "American pro-war propaganda". I tend to lean toward the former group, myself. While I can see that there's some American propaganda here that can't really be denied (the movie opens with a huge American flag), I think there's just much more to it than that, and I never found it to be so very coated in the propaganda people talk about.
The movie, quite basically, follows a group of American soldiers who are given the order to find and retrieve a Private Ryan (Matt Damon). He has been classified MIA while his three brothers were KIA, and has been given this opportunity to go home to his family. The soldiers reluctantly carry out the order, facing several ordeals along the way, and it's a movie full of people you didn't realize were there until rewatching it. Lead by Tom Hanks, the group also consists of a mass of talent from Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Giovani Ribisi, and the name that surprises most, Vin Diesel.
The film was released in 1998, and at the time of it's release, it was pretty much made out to be the most realistic war movie yet made. This has a lot to do with the incredibly intense opening scene in which the soldiers land at Normandy. It's gone down in cinematic history as one of the most referenced... how shall I say this... "OMGWTF is happening to my world!?" scene. This was probably most recently done with 'Sausage Party', but was also parodied in 'South Park' with 'Imaginationland'. But that's not all that has been pointed out about this movie.
Further realism has been noticed by veterans as well (or so several internet articles have told me). The realistic battle scenes are one thing, but the real pull of the movie lies in the comradery between these soldiers. Perhaps my favorite scene in the entire film involves them hiding in an abandoned building overnight and just having a conversation. The talk had nothing to do with warfare, but nostalgia, talking about a friend the knew who was always walking around on his hands. This does lead into a comparison between the mission and the man, but it's mostly about developing Hanks' character, showing the audience his moral side. You don't see a hero, you don't see a bad guy, you see a human being trying to figure out the right way to do things in the midst of a war. It's really quite a touching scene.
So, while I generally just recommend this movie to people as a solid drama, our opinions are our own. Some will see this and scream "propaganda" while others will hopefully see the story and characters within that are what ACTUALLY make the movie good. I feel like this same general story could have been told with soldiers of any nationality and still had the same overall effect. But maybe that's just me. I personally find it still holds up quite well, so if you want a good strong story that will probably cause your eyes to water and say "wow" at the end, I say go for it, 'cause it still works for me.