Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American war film set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. The film is notable for the intensity of its opening 24 minutes, which depict the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6, 1944. Afterward, it follows Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller and several Rangers (Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, and Adam Goldberg) as they search for a paratrooper of the United States 101st Airborne Division.
Rodat first came up with the film's story in 1994 when he saw a monument dedicated to eight brothers who died during the American Civil War. Inspired by the story, Rodat decided to write a similar story set in World War II. The script was submitted to producer Mark Gordon, who then handed it to Hanks. It was finally given to Spielberg, who had previously demonstrated his interest in WWII themes with films such as Schindler's List, and decided to direct Saving Private Ryan after reading the film's script. The film's premise is very loosely based on the real-life case of the Niland brothers.
Saving Private Ryan was well received by audiences and garnered considerable critical acclaim, winning several awards for film, cast, and crew as well as earning significant returns at the box office. The film grossed US$480 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of the year. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the film for eleven Academy Awards; Spielberg won the Academy Award for Best Director for his work on the film. Saving Private Ryan was released on home video in May 1999, earning $44 million from sales.
The film begins with an elderly World War II veteran (Harrison Young) and his family visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France. The veteran collapses to his knees in front of a gravestone, overwhelmed by emotion. The scene then changes to the beginning of the Normandy invasion, with American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach and struggling against dug-in German Army infantry, machine gun nests and artillery fire. One of the officers who survives the initial landing, Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks), commanding officer of C Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion, assembles a group of soldiers and slowly penetrates the German defenses, leading to a breakout from the beach.
Meanwhile, in the United States, General George C. Marshall discovers that three of the four brothers of the Ryan family have all died within days of each other and that their mother will receive all three notices on the same day. He learns that the fourth son, Private First Class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon) of Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment is missing in action somewhere in Normandy. The drop target for Ryan's unit was Neuville-au-Plain, Manche. Marshall orders that he be found and sent home immediately.
Back in France, Miller receives orders from Lieutenant Colonel Walter Anderson (Dennis Farina) to find Private Ryan and assembles six Rangers from his company (Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, and Adam Goldberg), plus one man detailed from the 29th Infantry Division (Jeremy Davies) to accomplish this task. With no information about Ryan's whereabouts, Miller and his men move out to Neuville. On the outskirts of Neuville they meet a platoon from the 101st. After entering the town Private Adrian Caparzo (Diesel) is fatally wounded by a sniper and dies. After finding James Fredrick Ryan from Minnesota (Nathan Fillion) by mistake, they find a member of Charlie Company, 506th, who informs them that his drop zone was at Vierville. He also tells them that both Baker and Charlie companies have the same rally point. Once they reach the rally point, Miller locates a friend of Ryan's, who reveals that Ryan is defending a strategically-important bridge over the Merderet River in the fictional town of Ramelle. They also find Brigadier General Amend dead in a glider (based on the death of Brigadier General Don Pratt).
On the way to Ramelle, Miller decides to take the opportunity to neutralize a small German machine gun position close to an abandoned radar station. Technician Fourth Grade Irwin Wade (Ribisi), their medic, is fatally wounded in the ensuing skirmish. Seeing how his wounds are fatal, Miller agrees to give Wade additional morphine to ease his passing. The last surviving German, known only as "Steamboat Willie" (Joerg Stadler), incurs the wrath of all the squad members except Corporal Upham (Davies), who protests to Miller about letting the squad kill the German soldier. Miller decides to let the German walk away and surrender himself to the next Allied patrol, a decision viewed by Private First Class Reiben (Burns) as letting the enemy go free. No longer confident in Miller's leadership, Reiben declares his intention to desert, prompting a tense confrontation with Sergeant Horvath (Sizemore) that threatens to tear the squad apart until Miller defuses the situation by revealing his origins, on which the squad had formed a betting pool. Reiben remains with the group.
The squad finally arrives on the outskirts of Ramelle where they destroy a German reconnaissance unit with the help of some American paratroopers, one of them being Ryan. The unit regroups in Ramelle, joining with the American paratroopers defending the town, where Captain Miller informs Ryan of his brothers' deaths and of their mission to bring him home. Ryan adamantly refuses to leave his makeshift unit, demanding that he remain to help defend the bridge against an impending German counterattack. Miller reluctantly agrees and orders his unit to help defend the bridge in the upcoming battle, taking command and setting up the defense with what little manpower and resources they have. There are fewer than twenty American soldiers in the town.
The Germans arrive in force supported by assorted tanks, a towed FlaK 38 cannon, and half-tracks. Miller leads the defense, but in spite of inflicting heavy German casualties, most of his remaining squad members are killed. While attempting to blow the bridge, Miller is shot by 'Steamboat Willie' and is fatally wounded. Just before a Tiger reaches the bridge, an American P-51 Mustang arrives and destroys the tank, followed by more Mustangs and advancing American infantry who assault the town and rout the remaining German forces. Upham shoots Steamboat Willie after seeing him shoot Miller, firing his weapon for the first time. Ryan, Reiben and Upham are the only main characters to survive the battle, and Ryan is with Miller as he dies and hears his last words, "James... earn this. Earn it."
Back in the present, the elderly veteran is revealed to be Ryan at Miller's grave. Ryan asks his wife to confirm that he has led a good life and that he is a "good man", and thus worthy of Miller's and the others' sacrifice. He then salutes the Captain's grave as the camera pans down the gravestones to the American flag and fades out.
Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller,  Tom Sizemore as Technical Sergeant Michael Horvath,  Edward Burns as Private First Class Richard Reibena,  Jeremy Davies as Technician Fifth Grade Timothy E. Upham, Barry Pepper as Private Daniel Jackson, Adam Goldberg as Private Stanley Mellish,  Vin Diesel as Private Adrian Caparzo,  Giovanni Ribisi as Technician Fourth Grade Irwin Wade,   Matt Damon as Private First Class James Francis Ryan.
Ted Danson as Captain Fred Hamill, pathfinder Dennis Farina as Lieutenant Colonel Walter Anderson, Miller's commanding officer Nathan Fillion as Private James Frederick Ryan, mistakenly identified paratrooper Paul Giamatti as Staff Sergeant William Hill, paratrooper Joerg Stadler as "Steamboat Willie" (unnamed German soldier) Maximilian Martini as Corporal Fred Henderson, ranking non-commissioned officer at Ramelle Harve Presnell as General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army Leland Orser as First Lieutenant DeWindt, pilot of a crashed Waco CG-4 glider transport Bryan Cranston as "Colonel at the War Department" Dylan Bruno as Private Toynbe, paratrooper at Ramelle
In 1994, Robert Rodat saw a monument in Putney Corners, New Hampshire, dedicated to eight brothers who died during the American Civil War. Inspired by the story, Rodat did some research and decided to write a similar story set in World War II. Rodat's script was submitted to producer Mark Gordon, who liked the story but only accepted the text after 11 redrafts. Gordon shared the finished script with Hanks, who liked it and in turn passed it along to Spielberg to direct. A shooting date was set for June 27, 1997. Before filming began, several of the film's stars, including Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg and Giovanni Ribisi as well as Tom Hanks, endured several days of "boot camp" training and work on the film set to prepare for their roles.
Spielberg had already demonstrated his interest in World War II themes with the films 1941, Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List, and the Indiana Jones series. Spielberg later co-produced the World War II themed television miniseries Band of Brothers with Tom Hanks. When asked about this by American Cinematographer, Spielberg said, "I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years; the fate of the Baby Boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. Beyond that, I’ve just always been interested in World War II. My earliest films, which I made when I was about 14 years old, were combat pictures that were set both on the ground and in the air. For years now, I’ve been looking for the right World War II story to shoot, and when Robert Rodat wrote Saving Private Ryan, I found it."
The D-Day scenes were shot in Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe Stand, Ballinesker, just east of Curracloe, Wexford, Ireland. Filming began June 27, 1997, and lasted for two months. Some shooting was done in Normandy, for the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer and Calvados. Other scenes were filmed in English locations such as a former British Aerospace factory in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, London, Thame Park, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. Production was due to also take place in Seaham, County Durham, but government restrictions disallowed this.
Saving Private Ryan has been critically noted for its realistic portrayal of World War II combat. In particular, the initial 24-minute sequence depicting the Omaha landings was voted the "best battle scene of all time" by Empire magazine and was ranked number one on TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest Movie Moments". Filmed in Ireland at Ballinesker Beach, the Omaha Beach scene cost US$12 million and involved up to 1,500 extras, some of whom were members of the Irish Army Reserve. Local reenactment groups such as the Second Battle Group were cast as extras to play German soldiers. In addition, 20–30 actual amputees were used to portray US soldiers maimed during the landing.
The landing craft used included two actual World War II examples. The film-makers even used underwater cameras to better depict soldiers being hit by bullets in the water. Forty barrels of fake blood were used to simulate the effect of blood in the seawater. This degree of verisimilitude was more difficult to achieve when depicting World War II German armored vehicles, as few examples survive in operating condition. The Tiger tanks in the film were copies built on the chassis of old, but functional Soviet T-34 tanks. The two vehicles described in the film as 'Panzers' were meant to portray Marder III self-propelled guns. They were created for the film using the chassis of Czech-built Panzer 38(t) tanks similar to the construction of the original Marder III.
Inevitably, some artistic license was taken by the filmmakers for the sake of drama. One of the most notable is the depiction of the 2nd SS Division "Das Reich", as the adversary during the fictional Battle of Ramelle. The 2nd SS was not engaged in Normandy until July, and then at Caen against the British and Canadians, a hundred miles east. Further, the Merderet River bridges were not an objective of the 101st Airborne Division but of the 82nd Airborne Division, part of Mission Boston. Much has been said about various 'tactical errors' made by both the German and American forces in the film's climactic battle. Steven Spielberg responded, saying that in many scenes he opted to replace sound military tactics and strict historical accuracy for dramatic effect.
To achieve a tone and quality that was not only true to the story, but reflected the period in which it is set, Spielberg once again collaborated with cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, saying, "Early on, we both knew that we did not want this to look like a Technicolor extravaganza about World War II, but more like color newsreel footage from the 1940s, which is very desaturated and low-tech." Kamiński had the protective coating stripped from the camera lenses, making them closer to those used in the 1940s. He explains that "without the protective coating, the light goes in and starts bouncing around, which makes it slightly more diffused and a bit softer without being out of focus." The cinematographer completed the overall effect by putting the negative through bleach bypass, a process that reduces brightness and color saturation. The shutter timing was set to 90 or even 45 degrees for many of the battle sequences, as opposed to the standard of 180 degree timing. Kamiński clarifies, "In this way, we attained a certain staccato in the actors' movements and a certain crispness in the explosions, which makes them slightly more realistic."