Everyone hates Ryan.
The following contains spoilers for Saving Private Ryan and World War II.
It’s funny how a film takes on a new dimension over the passage of time. Take Saving Private Ryan, for example. Ostensibly, ‘Ryan’ was a chance for Steven Spielberg to explore the nature of conflict and themes of guilt and regret on a broad canvas, while the viewer reflects on what a bunch of cock war is. But in the intervening years, the viewer learns not only to mourn the senseless loss of life during the most widespread war in history, but also begins to wonder just what happened to the young men who didn’t return from Europe to be welcomed by a hit trilogy of spy thrillers.
Saving Private Ryan is like a yearbook of late 90s acting talent. There’s Vin Diesel and the guy from Battlefield Earth – not to mention those blokes who were sometimes on Friends. And one by one, through the course of the film, they perish on their quest to rescue Matt Damon, who, it doesn’t need to be said, has had a pretty stellar career since 1998. Sadly this wasn’t the case for Spielberg’s expendables, who’ve been kind of sidelined in the intervening years.
Perhaps if the actors had realised that real-life would mirror the events of Saving Private Ryan they would have improvised a scene where they escape France on snowboards, but not before Vin Diesel smashes all the light bulbs and leaves Private Ryan to be eaten by aliens in the muddy streets of Ramelle. After all, ‘The Deez’ is supposed to be a filmmaker of some note – at least according to his website – while Edward Burns originally caused a stir with his directing and Tom Hanks has won one or two awards for acting. But alas, as each cast member meets his fate in Private Ryan, his career goes tits skyward*.
Anyway, enough of my yapping, I’m now going to examine the wilderness years of the Private Ryan crew.
If publicity were the career apex of an actor, then Tom Sizemore would straddle Hollywood like an inebriated colossus. In the 90s, if you were looking for someone to play a heavy with more than two-dimensions, you’d look for Sizemore. Following a string of solid supporting turns in Heat and Natural Born Killers – not to mention his admirably unconventional turn as a lead in The Relic, which is notable, considering the film concerned a statue that came to life and ate people, it looked like ‘The Size’ (as he was probably never known – least of all after his sex-tape) had carved out a successful niche playing goons with substance on-screen, and substance abuse issues off.
The afore-mentioned sex-tape was probably the low-point of Sgt. Horvath’s career, or it could be ‘Slumber Party Slaughter’, I don’t know; I haven’t seen it. But I’m going to take a guess and suggest that if it doesn’t feature a wasted Tom dressed in cycling shorts attempting to throw a football with more success than he finds summoning his mucky ‘man-pride’, it’s probably a couple of rungs up on the ladder of career respectability. The good news is that Mr. Sizemore is now holding down a steady job on the remake of Hawaii Five-O, so perhaps a filmic resurgence isn’t out of the question.
‘The Deez’ seemed to come out of nowhere with a string of good roles, including Private Ryan, The Iron Giant, Pitch Black and that funny video where he break-dances. Diesel seized the mantle of Generation Y’s go-to action star with roles in extended nu-metal music videos like Fast and the Furious and XXX. Unfortunately, Diesel’s Achilles’ heel appears to be a reach that exceeds his grasp – in this case the desire to be treated as a serious thesp, and not just a deep voice with muscles.
While he could have happily ploughed a furrow of sequels and anaemic action roles, ‘The Dieselator’ decided to stretch his talents and re-brand himself as a proper actor. This is either admirable or completely misguided, I don’t know – but he wouldn’t be the first, as evidenced by the ‘Oscar’ Stallone’s probably not very happy to talk about. Anyway, the dark years of The Pacifier appear to be behind him now and he’s gradually accepting the fact that people only really want to see him denying Paul Walker’s amorous advances while driving cars and scowling…or break-dancing.
Tom Sizemore may have lived through his real-life Abel Ferrera film with booze, drugs and hookers, but Barry Pepper’s the cast-member I feel most sorry for. Not only did he appear in the series of painfully elongated war clichés that was We Were Soldiers Once, but after surviving that nightmare he was then door-stepped by John Travolta, offering a free copy of Dianetics by L Ron Hubbard and a starring role in a film that was going to be better than Star Wars, because it was based on true events. Or something.
There are no suggestions for the existence of Battlefield Earth. Clearly, Travolta must have some epic powers of mind-control to convince people that investing millions of dollars in a sci-fi film that featured him matching his giant face with the body of a 9-foot tall alien rasta-goth was a good idea. Maybe there’s something in that Scientology stuff after all? Might be worth a try. Anyway, Pepper also survived this episode and has made something of a comeback, winning an award for his role in The Kennedys and appearing in True Grit. The only caveat appears to be a contractual requirement to have really bad teeth.
I once thought Giovanni Ribisi a good actor. Then I re-watched the film and discovered completely new things about it the second time round. And then I realized it was a completely different film, just the same performance by Giovanni Ribisi. And then I started to worry about Giovanni Ribisi. Did he even know he was in a film? Maybe he’s actually like that in real-life.
The best thing I can say for the wilderness years of Giovanni Ribisi is that I no longer felt I had to worry about Giovanni Ribisi’s well-being. And then I watched Avatar, and saw visual spectacles I’d never seen before, like aliens shoving their hair up dragons’ orifices. And then Giovanni Ribisi showed up being all Giovanni Ribisi-like and I started to think that maybe I had seen this before, which is either an indictment of the well-trodden path James Cameron’s story walks, or Giovanni Ribisi and his Giovanni Ribisi-ness.
There’s not much to say about the others; I don’t know much about Edward Burns, but I suspect that’s because he appears to play Edward Burns in every Kate Hudson film that doesn’t feature Matthew McConaughey or Owen Wilson. Anyway, his character doesn’t die, so escaped ‘the Curse of Ryan’.
Adam Goldberg appears to be the go-to guy when producers are looking for a hotheaded motor mouth, which veers from the mighty Zodiac to TV’s Medium.
I was genuinely surprised to find out that the guy who played the bookish Upham recently appeared as redneck sociopath Dickie Bennet in the second series of Justified. Anyway, as good as he was in that role (and he really was), Upham survived the film, so is also excluded.
The main star of Spielberg’s films is usually the man himself. His films are littered with actors who’ve been massive by proxy one minute and then vanished into the cinematic ether the next. So with that in mind, Matt Damon’s success is probably down to talent, luck and shrewd decisions – not the fact that he survived Saving Private Ryan (I know, right?). But, regardless, I bet at least one of the above examples still think he’s something of a spawny bastard.
* Tom Hanks is exempt from this rule – he’s survived much worse (as Joe Versus the Volcano and Bonfire of the Vanities will attest).
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