Matt Damon's Best Movie: Saving Private Ryan

[With The Adjustment Bureau hitting theaters on Friday, at Cinema Blend we've been thinking a lot about Matt Damon, and the star power that has kept him in the public eye for 15 years now. Starting off as a fresh-faced kid in the mid-90s, morphing into a bona fide action hero in the early 00s and snagging two Oscar nominations (and one win) along the way, he's had a career so varied that you can get into a lengthy argument with a friend about which film is his best, and both of you can be right. Which is exactly what we did, finally deciding we'd each pick a favorite and sing its praises. Continuing our series is Kelly, who brings us back to World War II for Saving Private Ryan. Here’s Kelly…]

I doubt anyone would try to argue that Matt Damon is the star of Saving Private Ryan. It could even be argued that James Ryan as a character is fairly average by comparison to Will Hunting, Tom Ripley or some of Damon’s other roles. When you consider that Ryan is known in name only for most of the film, there’s certainly an argument there, but, after giving Private James Ryan a closer look, you’ll realize just how vital he is as a character and how underrated Damon’s performance is.

We spend the bulk of Saving Private Ryan getting to know the World War II soldiers sent to locate Ryan, who is one of four brothers, three of whom have recently died in battle. By the time we’re introduced to Ryan, it seems impossible that he could live up to the lives lost and effort made to find him, however, somehow he does. Ryan’s frustrated reaction to the mission to save him and his refusal to abandon his fellow soldiers is part of that, but it's the scene between he and Miller, wherein Ryan laughs as he tells a story about his brothers in a barn that truly captures the spirit of who Ryan is and what he represents.

Saving James Ryan means saving a legacy of sorts and preserving what’s left of a brotherhood of men before war separated them. With one brotherhood sent to save what’s left of another, James is the future. He’s part of a generation of soldiers who will make it home and carry on the stories of the men who won’t. Understanding that makes it easier to swallow the loss of the other characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of the film. Appreciating that makes it impossible not to see Damon’s huge contribution to what was already a fantastic movie.

Matt Damon may not have had the most screen-time in Saving Private Ryan, but his was a crucial role that stood to make or break the film. We needed to believe that Ryan would go on to “earn this,” as Miller instructed him to in his final words. We needed to know in the end, that it was all worth it on some level. Had Damon not delivered a performance that allowed us to see Ryan go on to live a life worthy of the ones lost to save him, what is now regarded as one of the greatest war movies ever made might not have been nearly as satisfying in the end.

“Someday we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole godawful, shitty mess. Like you said, Captain, maybe we do that, we all earn the right to go home.” -Horvath

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[Check back for more in our Matt Damon's Best Movie series, coming right here later this week.]

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site.