Ultimately, it lacks the resonance of such classics as All Quiet on the Western Front, but this is still well-meaning, strongly acted and slickly mounted, and ranks among the director's very best films.
Its dramatic shortcomings may demote Private Ryan from the ranks of battlefield classics, but the film explodes romantic notions of World War II like an artillery shell bursting through the center of your rib cage.
Steven Spielberg has made a film about bravery that doesn't shy away from the horrors encountered by soldiers even in a "good" war. But he wasn't quite brave enough to present the story without a comforting coat of saccharine.
Calling it the greatest war movie ever made does a disservice to other, equally worthwhile, lower-profile films. But it's still an excellent movie, as effective in battle scenes as it is in that of soldiers ruminating on an Edith Piaf song.
What Steven Spielberg has accomplished in Saving Private Ryan is to make violence terrible again. Nothing in the movie's melodramatic narrative can diminish the shocking immediacy of its combat scenes.
Spielberg goes a long, long way toward overcoming his tendencies toward the shallow, but the visceral punch of his not-quite-masterful film is softened by an almost neurotic slickness that keeps getting in the way of the [issues it raises].
Spielberg obviously decided that blood and guts meant just that, and so he arranged his violence into a semblance of pure disorder. The illusion holds, complete with severed limbs and wellsprings of blood, and it feels honorable.