The first half hour, which depicts the storming of the beaches of Normandy in 1944, has become a benchmark in cinema history. While there have been gritty war movies in the past, Saving Private Ryan took battlefield realism to an entire new level. Some veterans I have spoken to who have seen the movie commented that Spielberg managed to capture the raw emotions of combat better than in any other fictional film.
The rest of the movie contains equally powerful moments and a gripping storyline. The actors are all excellent, including Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies.
The bookend moments at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial are emotional counterpoints to the brutality of war seen during the rest of the movie. The image of sunlight shining through a thin American flag is ingrained in my memory.
While some war movies glorify violence or seem to serve as either propagandistic jingoism or anti-war preaching, Saving Private Ryan is an incredibly well-made motion picture that lets the characters and the story speak for themselves.