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Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat, dealing with the World War II Battle of Normandy. more...

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This film is particularly notable for the intensity of the scenes in its first thirty minutes or so, which depict the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6, 1944. Thereafter it takes a very heavily fictionalised route built around the search for a paratrooper of the United States 101st Airborne Division.

Spielberg later pursued his interest in the Normandy campaign with the television mini-series Band of Brothers which he co-produced with Tom Hanks.


The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and won five: for Best Director, Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing.


The general plot of the film, as the title suggests, is a humanitarian rescue mission led by John Miller, a US Army Ranger captain, played by Tom Hanks to return the last surviving Ryan brother from the Normandy front line to his mother. Many critics commented that the film seemed marred somewhat by Spielberg's propensity for sentimentalism.

As the position consolidates, Miller is given his new assigment, to find a certain Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), who had been parachuted in as a member of the 101st Airborne, which, as the film historically correctly asserts, was scattered widely across Normandy. Ryan is the sole surviving member of four brothers, the other three having been killed in action. The American command takes the decision to bring him back for his mother's sake.

Miller conceals his erstwhile profession of schoolteacher and his background from the troops under his command; the uncovering of Miller's background becomes a sub-plot of the film in as much as the men have a monetary pool on his origins, which he steadfastly refuses to reveal. Under intensely difficult circumstances, Miller displays a decisive and courageous manner to his soldiers - his suppressed nervousness is communicated to them only by an occasional shaking of his left hand, which to his consternation he cannot control.

Eventually, at the expense of two members of their unit, Miller and his men catch up with Ryan. They break the news of his brothers' deaths to him and tell him that he is going home. Ryan is defiant, instead wishing to stay with his squad because they're "the only brothers I have left." Miller and his men protect Ryan, and all but two members of Miller's unit are killed in a ferocious German tank assault on the bridge over the Merderet River in the (fictional) village of Ramelle, which they are defending. Ryan survives, but Miller is killed in the assault.

Historical background

The real "Ryan" was Sgt. Frederick (Fritz) Niland who, with some other members of the 101st, was inadvertently dropped too far inland. They eventually made their own way back to their unit at Carentan, where the Chaplain, Lt. Col. Father Francis Sampson, told Niland about the death of his three brothers, two at Normandy and one in the Far East. Under the US War Department's Sole Survivor Policy, brought about following the death of five Sullivan brothers serving on the same ship, Fr. Sampson arranged passage back to Britain and thereafter to his parents, Augusta and Michael Niland, in Tonawanda, New York. There was no behind-the-lines Ranger rescue mission, Niland was not a simple private, his mother was not a widow, nor is she believed to have received all three telegrams together. Additionally, the brother believed killed in the Far East turned out to have been captured and later returned home. Fr. Francis Sampson wrote about Niland and the story of the 101st, in his 1958 book, Look Out Below! (ISBN 1877702005).


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