They chew out a member of thernsquad, Cpl. Upham, for saluting Capt.rnMiller. The corporal, recruited fromrnheadquarters company because of hisrnlanguage skills, has no combat experiencernand does not understand that salutingrnan officer in the field is a good way tornget that officer killed. Spielberg got thatrnright, but at the same time he has Millerrnwearing a helmet with bright white captain’srnbars painted on it!rnOur Rangers arrive at a village andrnmake contact with elements of the 101strnAirborne. The fat-faced sergeant whorngreets them looks like a roly-poly 40-yearoldrnwho has spent the war as a cook inrnsome rear area, not as a member of Brig.rnGen. James “Jumping Jim” Gavin’srnvaunted paratroopers. One of thernRangers, while disobeying orders, is shotrnby a German sniper. Capt. Miller sendsrnhis own sniper into action, a southernrnboy named Jackson. The resultingrnsniper duel was taken from a real event,rnbut the war w as Vietnam, not World WarrnII. When Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock,rna good ol’ boy from Arkansas, saw arnflash from the sun’s reflection on the lensrnof a NVA sniper’s scope, Hathcock firedrnat the point of light. The round from hisrnWinchester Model 70 went rightrnthrough the enemy sniper’s scope, intornhis eye, and out the back of his head.rnJackson performs the same trick on hisrnGerman rival. There is a problem withrnSpielberg’s version, however. The actionrntakes place during a driving rainstorm.rnThe sky is black. There is no sun.rnWe are soon subjected to the spectaclernof the sole Jewish soldier in thernmovie, Pvt. Mellish, loudly and obnoxiouslyrntaunting German prisoners. Hernscreams that he is ]uden. Just in case thisrnis too subtle for moviegoers, Spielbergrnhas him wave a Star of David at the prisoners.rnMellish looks like a cowardlyrnschoolyard loudmouth hurling insults atrnsomeone who cannot fight back. Later,rnwhen a German soldier slowly sinks arnbayonet into Mellish’s heart, does anyonernwatching the film care?rnThe same lack of feeling extends tornmost of those in the squad who die. Inrnmy circle of friends, there was generalrndisappointment that P’t. Reiben, an obnoxiousrnloudmouth like Mellish, did notrnget greased. Reiben is regularly insubordinaternand, at one point, refuses Capt.rnMiller’s direct order on the battlefield. Arnridiculous shouting match follows withrnSgt. Horvath. Not only does Spielbergrnagain have a squad of Rangers lookingrnlike misfits released from the stockade,rnbut he has put his American man on display.rnReiben and Horvath do not fight.rnThey just shout.rnThe shouting match concerns a Germanrnprisoner. Should he be killed onrnthe spot? The German turns craven andrnspews all sorts of nonsense, including thernobligatory “F Hitler,” that he thinksrnwill ingratiate himself with the Americans.rnLike all his fellow Germans in thernmovie, he also sports a buzz cut, unlikernreal German soldiers in World War II.rn(Is this some effort at connecting Germanrnsoldiers with today’s skinheads?)rnThe prisoner is Spielberg’s German Everyman.rnDoes Spielberg not understandrnthat reducing the enemy to a cowardlyrncaricature diminishes the American soldier?rnApparently, it was not really muchrnof a task to defeat the Krauts, after all.rnA movie has to make us identify with,rnor at least care about, its characters. Ifrnnot, we remain uninvolved, and thererncan be no suspense. Aside from Sgt.rnHorvath and the sniper Jackson (and, forrnsome, Capt. Miller and the medic), isrnthere anyone in the squad whom we reallyrncare about?rnThe squad finally finds Pvt. Ryanrn(who inexplicably wears PFC stripes).rnRyan and a couple of his buddies fromrnthe 101st have just helped save the squadrnby destroying a German armored car.rnRyan refuses to leave his outfit, and wernbegin to root for him. The combinedrnforces prepare to defend a bridgehead inrnthe village against an anticipated tank attack.rnAlthough they have only smallrnarms, Capt. Miller says they can usern”sticky bombs.” None of the Rangers orrnthe paratroopers knows what he’s talkingrnabout. They must have forgotten, becausernthe use of sticky bombs was part ofrntheir basic training and the bomb is describedrnin the Ranger Handbook of FieldrnExpedient Devices. But, then, thesernRangers are like no others.rnPreparing his defense, Capt. Millerrnputs the sniper Jackson in the belfry of arnchurch. The position is a good observationrnpost, but no self-respecting sniperrnwould put himself in such a vulnerablernspot, especially with tanks approaching.rnSnipers need a position that will bothrnsupport the mission and allow them anrnavenue of escape. Jackson becomes onernbig target. Worse, though, Spielbergrndoes not have Jackson picking off thernGermans at 600 yards out. No, Jacksonrnonly shoots at them when they arrive inrnthe street directly below him —and herndoes it looking through a scope. A 40-rnfoot shot at moving targets through arnscope! Spielberg has the camera lookrnthrough the scope and gives us the sniper’srnview. We see Germans runningrnthrough the street with the crosshairs followingrnthem! Has Spielberg ever lookedrnthrough a 4x scope at something 40 feetrnaway? How could his vaunted technicalrnadvisors have ignored this?rnCapt. Miller also establishes somernrather deadly fields of fire for his ownrntroops. He and Ryan are positioned directlyrnbehind one of their own men andrnwill surely blow off his head when firingrncommences. At one point during thernbattle, Reiben sits on Ryan, pinning himrnto the ground to prevent him from fighting,rnevidently to protect him. However,rnthis is the same Ryan who has been fightingrnheroically up to this point. I hope Irnmissed something, because the scene isrnunfathomable. So, too, is Ryan curled inrna ball, rocking back and forth andrnscreaming, as the battle nears its climax.rnMeanwhile, Cpl. Upham, the cowardlyrnoffice pogue, freezes and fails torncarry ammunition to his comrades, leavingrnthem to be killed by Germans. However,rnP51 Mustangs arrive, and the Germansrnare put to flight or surrender. Arnhalf-dozen throw down their guns, raiserntheir arms, and surrender to a lone American,rnCpl. Upham. He recognizes one ofrnthem as the squad’s former prisoner andrnimmediately shoots him to death. Uphamrnthen strikes an heroic pose, and therncamera focuses on him for several beats.rnIs this supposed to be the act that has redeemedrnthe coward—the shooting of anrnunarmed prisoner?rnA good test of a movie is whether onernwould see it again. Unlike To Hell andrnBack, Twelve O’Clock High, The Sandsrnoflwo Jima, Mr. Roberts, Patton, RetreatrnHell, The Enemy Below, The Bridges atrnToko-Ri, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, andrna few others. Saving Private Ryan is arnone-timer. In his depiction of the carnagernof battle, Spielberg surpasses themrnall—but there it ends. His men and hisrnRangers are, for the most part, a sorry excusernfor the real thing. A good friend,rnArmy veteran Glenn Miley, whose decorationsrninclude the Silver Star and thernPurple Heart, summed it up beautifully.rnAfter watching the movie he shook hisrnhead in disgust and said: “That wasrnSpielberg’s army. He’s even taken that.”rn— Roger D.McGrathrnThousand Oaks, CArnMARCH iggg/,?rnrnrn