SAINTS AND SOLDIERS
Best Christian Film, 2005 - 4 Stars
Authentic War Story with Heart
You don't find a lot of war movies out there that feature a Bible toting soldier as its hero. Is it because Hollywood doesn't believe there are any, or just because they don't want to show them? Patton certainly was one, and so was Audie Murphy; and now the producers of Saints and Soldiers have given us another. But they've given us more than that: they've also given us a well-crafted, intelligent war movie that is gritty, personal and has a lot of heart.
This film is remarkable on many levels. It was done by a relatively young independent with a lot of vision: director-cinematographer-producer Ryan Little (The Last Good War, Freedom on the Water). Only Band of Brothers compares in grit, realism, and the personal side of war. It is well written, well cast (an ensemble of relative unknowns), well acted, well directed (Little), well shot (Little, in Utah), well designed - even the art on the DVD cover is remarkable, which is what initially drew me to this film.
The story is based on real WWII events that took place during the Battle of the Bulge. A group of American soldiers, who are being held prisoner by the German SS near the town of Malmedy in Belgium, are massacred by their captors (the Malmedy Massacre). But a handful of them manage to escape into the Ardennes forest, including a cynical medic named Gould, played by Alexander Niver; a soldier with strong Christian beliefs named Deacon, played by Corbin Allred; his sergeant Gunderson, played by Peter Holden (He plays his own grandfather.); and another soldier named Kendrick, played by Lawrence Bagby. Later they hook up with a downed British flyer named Winley, played by Kirby Heyborne, who is carrying a message to Allied forces that could save thousands of lives. But time is running out.
Most of the conflict in the story occurs between the men needing to survive and the message needing to get to the Allies; and between the medic Gould with his cutting remarks and the Christian soldier Deacon, who is struggling with guilt over having killed a German family by accident. I really like the fact that the writers, Matt Whitaker and Geoffrey Panos, gave the only gun in the group to Deacon, who, although he's the best shot, is the least stable and most unpredictable. He becomes even more of a question mark when they capture a German soldier who turns out to be a friend of Deacon's from his pre-war missionary days in Germany. This creates a lot of dramatic tension and suspense.
Whether Hollywood wants to admit it or not, most American soldiers who fought in WWI and WWII were probably Christians. I've still got both my grandfather's and my dad's Army issue Bibles, and they are both well read; and neither man was what you might call religious. Yet, being a soldier does something to you: it puts a good healthy respect for God, the brevity of life and the sting of death in you. I'm glad we finally have a film that depicts that. Saints and Soldiers is an excellent movie about war, priorities in conflict and sacrificial love.
If you want an additional treat, check out the Saints and Soldiers website - it's wonderfully interactive - at http://www.saintsandsoldiers.com/
Waitsel Smith, September 8, 2005
Text © 2005 Waitsel Smith. Image © 2005 Excel Entertainment Group. All Rights Reserved.
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