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Holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day are always accompanied by the inevitable, time-honored debate over what are the best (and worst) war movies.

Military historian Antony Beevor says Saving Private Ryan — which many say is a great war movie — is not one of the best:

Not only is it not the greatest war movie, it’s not even the best cinematic depiction of D-Day, says Beevor, author of the newly published “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy” (Viking).

He admires the famed Omaha Beach opening — “Probably the most realistic battle sequence ever filmed,” he said — but described the rest of “Saving Private Ryan” as “ghastly.”

“It’s sort of a ‘Dirty Dozen’ cliche of the worst form,” he said.

The ending of Saving Private Ryan now does nothing but remind me of what the Nobel Committee told Obama after they handed him the Peace Prize: “Earn this…”

I’m a sap for the “old school” war movies — WWII era especially. Some of the oldies might not have been realistic in the fighting sense, but dammit they dripped the kind patriotism that was required to win that war, and to that end they were accurate portrayals.

They were movies where you knew that the actors weren’t just doing it for a huge paycheck and then backstabbing the effort after filming ended — the actors in many cases were part of the effort in their own way. Hollywood does still have actors like that — Gary Sinise, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, etc. — but they’re much fewer and farther between than they used to be.

Decades ago there was a confidence on the part of the American filmgoing public that when they watched a war movie, they knew most of the actors were actually on America’s side. Today, not as much — and that takes away from the overall experience of what otherwise might be a “great” war movie as well.

That said, for my money, it’s hard to beat George C. Scott in Patton — especially the opening scene:

Update: Here’s Patton updated for more modern times.

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