Ted Danson as Captain Hamill in Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Several days after the traumatizing D-Day landings, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and company are hot on the trail of a Private Ryan – known to be a member of the 101st Airborne Division, and the subject of the team’s mission, due to the deaths of his brothers. Reaching the small French town of Neuville, the team finds that their path crosses with that of Captain Hamill – a Paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. A case of mistaken identity ensues, as Captain Hamill does indeed have a Private Ryan under his command, but the fact that it is the wrong one does not become clear until after Miller erroneously informs him of the deaths of his brothers.
The appearance of Ted Danson in this small role is of vital importance to the film. While some suggest that it is distracting and is detrimental to the narrative structure, it actually serves to widen our view of the experience of these characters. Until this point in the film, Captain Miller cuts a lonely, isolated figure as the older, wiser leader of his unit. The men around him are all younger, inexperienced and very scared.
When they come across Captain Hamill, the character serves as a counterpart to Miller, while his unit reflects the characters we are following in their pursuit of Ryan. The brief sequence therefore opens up what would otherwise be a very limited view of a global experience – the result of which is to change the tone of the film into something altogether more devastating.