The Critics: Videos

Saving Private Ryan (15) Steven Spielberg's half-hour opening sequence - a graphic rendition of the Omaha Beach landing - is everything it's been made out to be: visceral film-making that immerses the audience in what might be the bloodiest action set-piece in Hollywood history before any of the characters are introduced. (It eclipses everything in the fatuous Shakespeare in Love, this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture.) But it's disheartening to see how swiftly Saving Private Ryan reverts to war-movie cliches. The master manipulator's Second World War epic, hyperbolically lauded as "the greatest war film ever made" by many American critics, is concerned with the rescue of a Private Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in combat. Eight soldiers - a predictably diverse bunch, led by a stolid Tom Hanks - are ordered by the State Department to rescue Ryan. The supporting actors (including Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, and Ed Burns) are mostly fine, and Hanks has never been more moving. But the film strenuously poses their mission as a moral dilemma, which here amounts to little more than a series of clumsily written monologues. The movie's failings are almost as indelible as its achievements: there's no more telling indicator of the suspect Spielberg methodology than John Williams's nauseating score, which hammers "meaning" into every scene it accompanies. And the grotesque bookends - a tear-jerking, flag-waving present-day visit to a Normandy graveyard - are among the most spurious images the director has committed to film.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (18) Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter Thompson's drug-addled gonzo classic may have alienated viewers through its faithfulness to the source material, but Gilliam, who perfectly captures the speed- freak quality of Thompson's prose, has in fact fashioned one of the most audacious Hollywood productions in years - the film is indulgent, to be sure, but its very subject is indulgence. Playing Thompson (alias "Raoul Duke") and his sidekick Dr Gonzo are Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro: manic, quite convincingly stoned, and very funny.

DENNIS LIM

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