Saving Private Ryan
Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine
instrument of warfare.
The film begins with an elderly veteran and his family visiting the Normandy American Cemetry and Memorial. We then see the vet walking to a headstone, falling to his knees before it and losing his composure. His family gathers around him and the scene flashes back to a graphic recreation of the landing of the first wave of soldiers on Omaha Beach during the WWII invasion of Normandy. The film focuses on one Cpt. John H. Miller of the 2nd Ranger Batallion, who eventually manages to lead a group of men through the dense German beach defenses to reach the heights overlooking the beach.
The story shifts to the US war Dept offices where thousands of death notification letters are being typed for delivery to the families of the fallen soldiers. It is discovered 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. The fourth son, Pfc. James Francis Ryan of the 1st Battalion 506th Parachute Regiment, a paratrooper, remains unaccounted for somewhere in France. Gen George C Marshall orders that he be found and sent home immediately.
The scene returns to Europe, where Miller assembles a squad of eight men to carry out his orders: find Ryan and return him safely to the rear. Possessing virtually no information as to Ryan’s whereabouts or the location where his unit parachuted into France, Miller and his men must move from town to town and among other American units to find him.
After several false leads and the loss of one of their squad, Caparzo, to a German sniper, the men happen to find a friend of Ryan’s. He tells them that Ryan is defending a strategically important bridge over the Merderet River in the town of Ramelle.
On the way to Ramelle, the unit discovers the bodies of several dead soldiers from the 82nd Airborne, and realize that they had been ambushed by a German MG-42 weapons team guarding a bombed-out radar station. The unit attacks the position, losing T/4 Wade in the firefight. His death greatly affects the rest of the men, who seek to execute the lone surviving German, called "Steamboat Willie" in the film's credits. Miller decides to let him go, precipitating a dramatic confrontation with some of his squad. Miller releases the prisoner, instructs him to turn himself in to the first Allied unit he encounters, and defuses the tension between his own men by revealing some heretofore private information about himself.
The unit eventually arrives on the outskirts of Ramelle. Crossing an open field, they spot a German SdKfz halftrack. The unit takes cover, and an unknown source fires a bazooka at the German half-track, disabling it. After securing the vehicle, a three-man ambush team from the 101st Airborne Division emerge and introduce themselves; one of the men is James F. Ryan.
In Ramelle, Captain Miller tells Ryan of his brothers' deaths and of their mission to bring him home. Ryan surprises them by refusing to leave his unit and the men who he has called "the only brothers he has left." Miller and his squad decide to help defend the town from an impending German counter-attack and elicit Ryan’s promise that he will leave with them once the bridge is secured.
Miller leads the defense of a strategical bridge in the movie’s climactic battle. The Germans overwhelm the defenders killing nearly all of Miller's squad. Only Ryan, Upham, Reiben and Miller and a few airborne troops remain. They prepare to destroy the bridge, but a near miss from one of the German tanks knocks Miller off his feet and sends the detonator flying.
Miller attempts to venture back onto the bridge into heavy enemy fire to retrieve the detonator, but is shot and critically wounded, ironically by "Steamboat Willie" who apparently has joined up with the German attackers.
Dazed and dying, Miller vainly fires his service pistol at a Tiger tank advancing across the bridge, when it unexpectedly explodes. Immediately thereafter, the true cause of the tank's destruction is revealed when a pair of Mustangs fly over, providing air support for newly arriving American reinforcements. Upham briefly takes a group of German soldiers prisoner, kills "Steamboat Willie" and then sets the rest of them free.
Miller is tended to in vain by Reiben, one of the only two members of Miller's squad who survives. Miller's final words to Ryan are: “James…earn this. Earn it.” Ryan’s face morphs into that of the old man in the cemetery from the opening of the film and the grave is revealed to be Miller’s.
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