Face-Off: Saving Private Ryan vs. Black Hawk Down

Nice to see you again, seekers of the thrill! The last session was a particularly brutal Face-Off that forced two Spider-Men to compete for domination, with Tobey Maguire's web-slinger taking home the crown. This week we're marking the release of Christopher Nolan's war epic, DUNKIRK, by putting two of the most lauded war movies of the last twenty years on the ultimate battlefield: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and BLACK HAWK DOWN.

The former is the Steven Spielberg masterpiece that won the director his second Academy Award but was criminally denied Best Picture in 1999 (losing to something about some dude who wrote fancy fart jokes). The movie remains a classic that set the bar for all future war movies, and it always finds a spot among the best movies ever made. The latter is an admired piece of work as well and is a prime example of how to do modern war films right. Ridley Scott proved why he’s one of the best in the biz by delivering this taut, expertly-crafted war film, and was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

Both of these movies are about the harsh realities of war and the duty of men who fight them, but today all they have to worry about fighting is each other. Which does what better? Get ready for a war!

Tom Hanks as Captain Miller
Matt Damon as Private Ryan
Tom Sizemore as Sergeant Horvath
Edward Burns as Private Reiben
Barry Pepper as Private Jackson
Adam Goldberg as Private Mellish
Vin Diesel as Private Caprazo
Giovanni Ribisi as T-4 Medic Wade
Jeremy Davies as Corporal Upham
Paul Giamatti as Sergeant Hill
Ted Danson as Captain Hamill
Josh Hartnett as Eversman
Ewan McGregor as Grimes
Tom Sizemore as McKnight
Eric Bana as Hoot
William Fichtner as Sanderson
Sam Shepard as Garrison
Ewan Bremner as Nelson
Kim Coates as Wex
Hugh Dancy as Schmidt
Jerermy Piven as Wolcott
Tom Hardy as Twombly
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Gordon
Orlando Bloom as Blackburn
Ty Burrell as Wilkinson
Heralded as one of the greatest filmmakers ever, Steven Spielberg delivered what is quite possibly his ultimate masterpiece with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The film encapsulates everything that makes the director one of the best to ever sit in the chair. First there’s his ability to take a grand, thrilling story and condense it down to something relatable and human, while never diminishing its scope. The D-Day sequence is a perfect example, as Spielberg starts by focusing on the terrified men about to be sent to their doom, then throws them into the mouth of Hell, all while remembering to examine the horror of the situation through Tom Hanks’ eyes. Then there’s the sensitive side of the man who yearns to tell gripping stories about average people having to face insurmountable odds. The war itself notwithstanding, the task of finding Private Ryan seems an impossible job, but duty calls upon men at war, and this seemingly hopeless task of bringing Ryan home is a shot at bringing some light back into this dark world. This is an absolute masterclass from Spielberg, who not to mention can make three hours just fly by!
Also heralded as one of the greatest filmmakers ever, Ridley Scott also delivered one of his finest films with BLACK HAWK DOWN. The difference here is that while Spielberg focused on telling the story about men at war with a tight-knit band of soldiers, Scott centered his on a battalion of men fighting through one tremendous scenario that took them into the heart of darkness. Once the action gets going DOWN is an unrelenting force of nature filled with thunderous action that illuminated the uncompromising, unexpected and futile nature of war. Scott masterfully directs the chaos through the streets of Mogadishu, keeping focus on the massive ensemble cast as they work together to get each other out of the warzone and back to safety. Yes the action is thrilling, but Scott refuses to lose sight of the movie’s core message about never leaving a man behind. Eric Bana’s Hoot gives a speech to Josh Hartnett’s Eversman at the end, telling him about how when he goes home people ask him why he does it, and why he would keep going back in when the peril is so great. Hoot says these people will never understand that it’s not about you, but about the men beside you. Scott always keeps the theme front and center while never losing the momentum of the combat, proving why he himself is also an uncompromising force of nature.

A Walk Through the Cemetary

Peparing for Hell

Landing on the Beach


Soldier: "Where's the rallying point?"
    Miller: "Anywhere but here!"

Wounded Solider: "Momma! Momma!"

Advancing Up the Beach

Soldier: "Don't shoot! Let em' burn!"

Two soldiers after shooting surrendering Germans:
    #1: "What did he day?"
    #2: "Look, I washed for supper!"

Mother Ryans Collapses on the Porch

The Beginning of the Mission

Miller quoting a German on the intercom: "'The Statue of Liberty is kaput.' That's disconcerting."

The Death of Caprazo

A Sudden Standoff

The Wrong Ryan (ft. Nathan Fillion)

Emotions in the Church

Horvath to Miller: "...the mission is a man."

Searching the Dog Tags

Hillside Fight

The Death of Medic Wade

Captain Comes Clean

Miller: "Every man I kill the further away from home I feel."

The Real Ryan

Calm Before the Storm

The Battle of Ramelle

The Death of Jackson

Knife Fight

The Death of Mellish

Upham's Failure

The Last Stand

Miller to Ryan: "Earn this."

Saluting a Hero

Chaos in the Streets

Hunting Dinner...From Above!

Meet the Soldiers

The Plan

Grimes: "I made coffee through Desert Storm."

Suiting Up

Rolling Out to Voodoo Child

Warning Signal

The Chaos Begins

The Fallen Bloom

Pilla: "Colonel, they're shooting at us! Colonel, they're shooting at us!"

    McKnight: "Well shoot back!"

*After dodging a rocket* Grimes: "Fuuuuck this!"

First Black Hawk Down

"We got a black hawk down, we got a black hawk down. "

...the battle continues...

Assessing the Damage at Base

Wex is Blown in Half

Second Hawk Down

...and continues...

Soldier to McKnight: "There's a fucking rocket in him, sir!"

McKnight: "You, get up there and drive!"
    Soldier: "But I'm shot Colonel!"
    McKnight: "Everybody's shot!"

Two Man Calvalry

Crash Site Swarmmed

Leg Surgery

Night Time Wave

The Final Assault

Running to Freedom

Hoot to Eversman: "When I go home people'll ask me, 'Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?' You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is. "
John Williams is the master. The master. He’s practically scored our childhoods with his work on STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES and virtually everything else Spielberg has done. His work on RYAN proves why the two work so well together, as Williams favored soft, sweeping and majestic orchestrations to complement the powerful emotion in the film. It’s wasn’t about creating an exciting score to capitalize the war action. The score works best when it gently glides across the scene during a moment of solemnity, and then crescendos to give the scene an immense amount of weight and heart. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the emotion of it all during the end when an old Private Ryan is visiting the grave of Captain Miller, and it fades out on the American flag with Williams’ patriotic Hymn of the Fallen bursting to life.
As for Hans Zimmer’s score, he took a different route, favoring fast-paced and adrenaline pumping pieces to highlight the chaos and ferocity of the film. He also makes great use of African sounds, like chants, drums, etc. It’s a rousing and exciting score that also makes use of those heavy, pulsating sounds he’s become known for now in the Batman movies. Of course, it’s great; it’s Hans Zimmer! But, come on, look at his competition.
The D-Day sequence is pure chaos, no doubt, but SVP is more about the men at war than the war itself, and that means seeing the aftermath of battles, watching characters get caught up in unexpected fire fights, and then listening to these characters as they reflect on why they're there and what their duties really are. The conflict is internal as much as it is external. But, of course, when it's crazy it is CRAZY!
As for BHD, the movie is total chaos from the get-go. The movie is almost two and half hours and it's basically non-stop carnage. This true story involved these men being trapped by enemy fire across the whole city, and there was barely a moment to account for the dead. BHD is very much about the cruel, unrelenting nature of war and how it constantly tests the absolute limits of the human spirit. War almost never goes the way you plan, and if BHD isn't proof of that then I don't know what is.
After the Allies take Normandy beach the high command gets word that four of five enlisted brothers have died in combat, and it's decided the fifth brother must be found and brought home. Captain John Miller and his unit are tasked with finding the young Private in a mission that forces them the beg the question, "Is one man worth saving if it's meant getting all of us killed." What does it mean to go to war, form a brotherhood and answer the call of duty?
U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force units are sent into Mogadishu, Somalia in an attempt to capture the radical Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who has declared war on UN personnel. In what should have been an easy assignment, the men were attacked by Aidid's militia forces resulting in the Battle of Mogadishu in October of 1993. Units are separated, countless are injured, and several Black Hawk helicopters have been taken down with their crew stranded in hostile territory. Every man fought to keep himself and his fellow soldier alive in this tale of brotherhood and survival.
Watching SVP is like stepping into a time machine and being shot back to 1940's Europe. The costumes look like they were ripped right out of a museum, and the rubble of the buildings look so authentic it's like they destroyed perfectly good buildings just to get the setting right. The battle scenes are astonishing too, as Spielberg and his production team worked tirelessly to make sure the battles appeared 100 percent realistic. The ocean runs red with blood; sand explodes into the air; bullets hit with heavy thuds and loud pings; tanks blast and roll over ruined buildings. If you want an authentic WWII experience, look no further. Although, I can't imagine why you would be so insane as to want that.
Ridley Scott wanted to put you right into the war zone, and by god did he succeed. The bullets hit hard, the camera work is fast and furious, and every single bullet that lands on a soldier is felt on our end. The feeling of hopelessness and danger is palpable, and if the point of war movies it to give you a sense of what it's like (even though most of us will never have an earthly idea), then BHD succeeds in spades. They must have had buckets of blood on hand. BUCKETS.
    Best Director: Steven Spielberg (Won)
    Best Sound Editing (Won)
    Best Cinematography (Won)
    Best Sound (Won)
    Best Film Editing (Won)
    Best Actor: Tom Hanks (Nom)
    Best Picture (Nom)
    Best Original Score (Nom)
    Best Original Screenplay (Nom)
    Best Makeup (Nom)
    Best Art Direction (Nom)
Golden Globes:
    Best Picture (Won)
    Best Director (Won)
    Best Original Score (Nom)
    Best Screenplay (Nom)
    Best Actor (Nom)
    IMDB: 8.6 (Top Rated Movie #28)
    $216 million domestic ($481 million global)
    Best Film Editing (Won)
    Best Sound (Won)
    Best Cinematography (Nom)
    Best Director: Ridley Scott (Nom)
Golden Schmoes:
    Best Action Scene: "the entire battle in Somalia" (2nd Place)
    Best Trailer (Nom)
Praise Money:
    $108 million domestic ($172 million global)

BLACK HAWK DOWN is a marvelous film with a ton of great technical work, a terrific cast and a master director at the helm. But in retrospect there's little it does that's superior to its competition, and it's because of Scott that it ever gets close to being as good in certain areas. As I said in the beginning, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN sets the bar that all war movies should aspire to meet. Masterfully directed, wonderfully acted, beautifully scored, technically marvelous and thrilling from the earliest moments until the final bullet is fired. RYAN is a prime example of how tremendous the moviegoing experience can be when all the elements come together so perfectly. It is the ultimate war film, and it's no wonder why after all these years it's still regarded as one of the greatest achievements ever put to film. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, we salute you!

Check out our picks for the best WWII movies ever made! Guess which is number one! Go on, guess!



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