Monday, October 14, 2013

Saints & Soldiers (2003)

Saints & Soldiers"Saints and Soldiers" is a gripping account of four soldiers who escape the brutal Malmedy Massacre in December, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. They are behind enemy lines, sleepless, hungry, and just trying to survive, when they find a downed British flight sergeant, whose mission is to reach allied troops with important coded information, so together they make the arduous and dangerous journey with that end in mind.

The plot is a compilation of true stories, and even the one that seems improbable, the meeting of the American and German soldiers who were friends before the war, was taken from a real event.

This film puts a human face on the horror of war. We get to know these men, their fears and their bravery, and they are characters who stay with you long after the film is over. Made on a tiny budget of under $ 1,000,000 in less than a month, with a cast of unknown actors, this film has won numerous awards, and deservedly so. Shot on location in Utah, which substitutes for the Ardennes forest, director Ryan Little was also the cinematographer, and has done a superb job with both tasks.

The "extras" used in the massacre scene were "re-enactors," who came from all over the country at their own expense to take part in this film, and memorialize this little known part of WWII history, and it is an amazing opening sequence that sets the mood for the film. Also enhancing the atmosphere is the subtle, lovely soundtrack by J. Bateman and Bart Henderson.

The ensemble cast is excellent, with the most memorable character being "Deacon," played with depth and emotion by Corbin Allred, who captures the innocence of the part. The other marvelous performances are by Alexander Niver Polinsky as Gould, Kirby Heyborne as Flight Sergeant Winley, Lawrence Bagby as Kendrick, Peter Asle Holden as Gunderson, and Ethan Vincent as Rudi.

The DVD extras are fascinating, and give us a glimpse into how this film was ingeniously made on so little money. The director and producers were exceedingly resourceful, and are interviewed in "The Making of Saints and Soldiers," as well as the writers of the terrific script, Geoffrey Panos and Matt Whittaker. Watching the film with their commentary is also interesting and adds to the appreciation of what they call "The little film that could."

This is a beautiful, intimate war film, a small gem not to be missed. Total running time is 90 minutes.

"Saints and Soldiers" could arguably be the best war film to emerge this year. Director Ryan Little packed a lot of punch into this low-budget war drama. It is not surprising that this film has won a slew of best picture awards at film festivals nationwide. Although supposedly based on actual events, Geoffrey Panos' screenplay stretches the historical truth somewhat. Nevertheless, "Saints and Soldiers" surely earned a place among the ranks of such films as "Saving Private Ryan," and "Band of Brothers." The film centers around the infamous Malmedy Massacre (Dec. 17, 1944) where eighty-six American prisoners-of-war were murdered by a German SS unit during the open phases of The Battle of the Bulge. Forty-three survived by faining death, or escaping into near-by woods. The film tells the story of five of those survivors hiding in the frozen snow covered Ardennes Forest evading the onrushing German spearheaded Panzer columns. When a downed British pilot is discovered with vital photo reconnaissance intelligence, the group agrees to help the Brit reach American lines. "Deacon," (Corbin Allred), a shell-shocked, guilt ridden, devout Christian, and loner turned infantryman, plays the film's protagonist. Through flashback sequences, we learn "Deacon" had accidentally killed a Belgian family, while attempting to clear a house of the enemy. Walking a tightrope between chaos and insanity, "Deacon" surprisingly meets up with an old bible-study acquaintance he had known from Berlin before the war. Captured by the Brit, Deacon saves his old friend from the same fate his American comrades had suffered at Malmedy, and releases him while the others slept. Just yards from the safety of the American lines, the group must first run a gauntlet of heavily armed German troops in a climax that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Utilizing the same revolutionary hand-held cinematography as Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers," Little adds realism to the film's scattered battle scenes. Attempting to hitch their wagon to the success of "Brothers," however, the film places a few 101st Airborne men in the cast. This is historically inaccurate, as the unit did not even arrive in the "Bulge" until two days after the Malmedy Massacre. When it did arrive, the 101st was further north defending Bastogne. With so much attention to details, and the use of historically minded re-enactors, it is surprising this blooper was left in the film. Little redeems himself by reverting back to classic war films of the 1950s and 1960s, by focusing on the player's fears, hopes, dreams, and skeletons hidden in the deepest closets of our minds. Despite minor flaws, this film deserves a place in any war film afficionados' DVD collection.

Buy Saints & Soldiers (2003) Now

My 18 year old son and I just got back from watching "Saints and Soldiers," a PG-13 film set during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. While this film has many of the qualities of a classic war film, I doubt that it will ever be a blockbuster, mainly because it's too "Christian."

While a bunch of American prisoners of war are gunned down by the Germans during an escape attempt, a few manage to get away. One of them has the nickname "Deacon," because he doesn't swear or drink (including coffee) and he reads his Bible a lot.

As this ragtag group attempts to sneak back to the front while behind enemy lines, you learn bits and pieces about the backgrounds of these GIs, and the one smug British pilot who parachuted to safety near where they were hiding. Although "Deke" is suffering from battle fatigue, as well as guilt for accidentally killing a family, he manages to share some of his story with the atheist medic.

I don't want to give away any more of the story. The film deserves the PG-13 rating for the blood and war violence (in a previous decade it might've earned an R rating for these, but not these days).

We learn that "Deacon" had been a missionary to Germany before the war, but we are never told specifically that he's a Christian, much less what denomination (or tradition). But as the story develops, there is no doubt that we're talking about Christian values of forgiveness.

This is definitely a film for the guys, especially war buffs. The downside of taking an 18 year old war buff to this show was listening to his detailed critique about the inaccuracy of the weapons used in the film, as well as some of the uniform patches. But despite that, my son enjoyed the film and is planning to recommend it to his friends.

Read Best Reviews of Saints & Soldiers (2003) Here

I saw this film on the big screen and was amazed at the filmmaker's ability to put you right into the action as rapidly and seamlessly as he did. Yes, it is a small film, no, there are no "Bridge Too Far" explosions and "Pearl Harbor" love scenes, but it is a tightly scripted study of the intimacies of prolonged duress on a small band of men, who at times are not pulling all in the same direction. Very poignant and very classy. Like a great classic film instead of the noisy, violent bloodfests that pass for war films now. As a former military wife, I know of many men like those portrayed here, some profane, some somber, many with values different than mine, but certainly all were honorable men who put their lives on hold and in harm's way and this film honors them. And the soundtrack is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of work you will ever hear.

Want Saints & Soldiers (2003) Discount?

I am a military history buff and I enjoyed this movie immensely. My Great Uncle was in the Ardennes during the German offensive, and he has told me many stories about the European Theatre some comic and some horrifying. His brother, my Maternal Grandfather, was in the United States Army Air Force and was stationed in Algeria, where he met my French Grandmother. Accordingly, I have had a huge in interest in all things WWII since I was 6.

The story is quite simple. Several American Soldiers survive the "massacre" at Malmedy (it is presented in the film as not so much a massacre by the Evil Nazis, but a misunderstanding between Jumpy Germans and Terrified Americans that led to the killing) and in their desparate attempt to reach Allied lines, they come across a downed English Officer who is carrying Highly Valuable Intelligence. Together, they brave the elements, the Germans and Themselves to save not only their own skins, but to deliver the intelligence that could save Thousands of Allied Lives. Along the way, they form the sort of bond that Men form when under enormous stress.

I found this story of trust, companionship, bravery and selflessness to be very believable and during the course of the film, I found myself emotionally invested in the characters. The acting is superb sometimes it is hard to look at Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and believe that he is a normal GI no, he is Tom Hanks! I thought the relatively unknown cast was excellent and it was the fact that I wasn't familiar with any of the actors that made this movie so extraordinarily believable. Well, their relative anonymity AND their excellent acting.

Another added bonus is the extraordinary cinemotography and set design all believable and realistic. While the movie was not chock-full of bracing action, the action scenes were very well done and I thought the DVD sounded great over my surround system.

All in all, this movie was absoutely fantastic, from the directing, the production, the sets, the costumes, to the acting. This is as good of a war film as your're gonna find.

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