"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.
on July 17, 2005
"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.
on April 4, 2005
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.
on October 31, 2009
The so-called "Malmédy Massacre" is the debut of this stunning movie, which was produced with a budget under USD 1 Mio, but still comes up with astonishingly good equipment, particularly in the few fighting scenes.
The real circumstances of the Malmédy incident have - and probably never will be - fully clarified. SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt. Col.) Joachim Peiper, who was later held responsible for the alleged massacre in the Dachau trials, had long left the scene when it occurred. SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj.) Werner Pötschke, whom Peiper had left in charge, didn't survive the war. Thus, there was and is no way to find out about a possible chain of commands.
In "Saints and Soldiers", the incident is caused by a POW who is trying to run away and gets shot, causing further panic and a spontaneous escalation of the dense situation, until the SS guards open machine gun fire on the POWs. I was surprised to watch a US movie coming up with this interpretation of the incident: Up to this point, we are not viewing a planned massacre, but a brutal act of war.
The war crime starts however, when SS men walk over the field and shoot the remaining survivors. Indeed, 41 of the dead POWs were found with head wounds (see John M. Bauserman: The Malmedy Massacre). This is a crucial fact that should be neither denied or discussed - and which is continuously ignored by those claiming that Malmédy was "just a tragedy".
Personally, heaving read various documentations about the incident (of both US and German origin) I am taking the movies' interpretation positively. However, the bit with the so-called "mercy shots" is where the thin line between act of war and war crime definitely comes to an end. The moviemakers should have put much more emphasis on this essential part of the incident. Maybe not by extending the actual shooting scene. But at least by stating these important facts in the end title.
The rest of the movie - roundabout 90% of its time - is not about the incident at the Baugnez crossroads, but shows the fate of a handful of survivors who managed to escape into the woods and now have to wind their way back behind enemy lines.
Their characters are very different and in civil life, some of these fellows probably wouldn't even have liked each other - if they had met at all, regarding their different backgrounds and whereabouts. But here, in the middle of the Belgian Ardennes, they are forced to form a team, because individually they couldn't survive. They manage that impressingly fast and well.
It is good to see that the movie is neither preaching heroism, or false pathos, or nationalism of any kind. Each of the protagonists has found their individual way to cope with war in general and with the current situation in particular: Cpl. Deacon keeps praying and reading his bible, while Medic Gould is trying to protect himself from desperation with a shield of cold, distanced attitude. British Flt. Sgt. Winley does not come across too comradely, nethertheless he and Pvt. Kendrick hold out together throughout the fights until the very end. My personal favorite is S.Sgt. Gordon, a sovereign combination of father figure and authority, particularly when dealing with traumatized Deacon.
Another good thing is that the director didn't get the silly idea of bringing romance in. The Belgian civilian and her child Sophie are staying in the house, while the soldiers remain in the outbuilding nearby. There are very moving scenes, for example little Sophie saying "bonjour" to Deacon... and Christmas Eve, when Cathérine and Sophie come by with little gifts... even for Rudolf, the German POW. But there is no good-bye. The soldiers decide to leave - next scene they are out in the woods and back to fighting and dying yet again.
I really liked the final scene, when Gould approaches a German POW to look after his wounds. Actually, it made me cry a bit.
Story-wise, "Saints and soldiers" may not be a high-class movie like "Paths of Glory" (WW1) or "Grand Illusion" (WW1). It may not be as well-equipped as "Saving Private Ryan" (WW2) or Vietnam-classics like "Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now". But considering its low budget, "Saints and Soldiers" is technically (equipment, color, sound) really well produced. The actors may not be known (at least not to me), but all of them come across intensively good. As a native, I easily detected a slight accent in the German spoken by Deacon and even that of some SS soldiers; but hey, let's not be overcritical. "Saints and Soldiers" tells nothing really new, its storyline is somewhat thin and the coincidences (particularly regarding Deacon meeting his German friend Rudolf in the middle of nowhere) a bit thick... which is why I deducted 2 points.
In my opinion, this movie should not be watched by minors, or at least they should be accompanied by an adult. The movie contains neither coarse language or sex scenes, but the few fighting scenes are rather graphic and can really get to you, particularly if you are not used to watching this kind of movie on a frequent basis or if you have personal strings to the topic.
All in all, it is a good anti-war-movie and the DVD definitely worth its price. I recommend it.
on January 8, 2006
If you like war stories and history, this little film is a BIG film, devoid of foul language and sex. The directing and acting are simply the best. It is proof that big Hollywood names and all the fill in sex and foul language is not needed in truly good work.
I recommend this film to all especially to those of all ages interested in the history of WWII, it is excellent. This film deserves all sorts of awards!
on March 23, 2005
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.
on January 22, 2006
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.
on July 6, 2005
This is an amazing film, especially when you appreciate the small budget. For about 1% of what "Saving Private Ryan" cost, we have a remarkable, widely admired, little-viewed, award-winning film that captures the gritty, grey-and-blue toned cinematography of "Band of brothers" and the problematic moral issues of "Ryan".
Four soldiers escape the Malmedy tragedy. Here the producers use a version of the massacre that evolves around a scared prisoner running away, being shot by the Germans, leading to a struggle with the guards, and setting off confusion, panic, a stolen rifle, and, eventually, the massacre. But first there is a critical revelation, when the central figure reveals his German-speaking skills.
The four soon find a downed British flier, possessing critical yet unnamed intelligence about the rapidly develping Battle of the Bulge. What started as four soldiers trying to survive turns into a sort of "Saving British Flier," with all of the accompanying problems associated with protecting his coded message. The soldiers struggle through the snow, hide beneath the floor of a shattered building, save a French woman from rape, capture and release a German prisoner (see "Private Ryan"), and all the time make their way back to their own lines.
[SKIP this paragraph if you don't want plot climax details revealed.] "Deacon" (Corbin Allred) plays the sharpshooting, straight-laced, former missionary central figure of the film. His German both saves and jeopardizes the men. His last, heroic rush back to the lines, ending with a crucifixion-like death at the hands of a German sharpshooter, allows him a final moment of redemption for a tragic scene he created just one week earlier. The escaped German prisoner (again, the "Ryan" homage of sorts) this time saves American lives and is captured again. The cynical Brooklyn medic (see Ed Byrnes in "Ryan") ends the film with his own form of conversion, treating another captured German, only this one helped precipitate the Malmedy disaster.
The film has a nice edge, a basically unknown cast (the five-person ensemble is across-the-board excellent, save the somewhat cheesy British accent needed by an American actor), and a budget of less than one million dollars. Yet all of the effects are there: the re-enactors, the equipment, the sound, the little details. Yes, the film is a bit derivative, but I found myself as moved at a soldier's death as I was at Tom Hanks' Captain Miller's death at the end of "Ryan".
If you wanted another installment of "Band of brothers," look no further. While these five banded by accident, over a matter of hours, and always on the run, they are no less of a brotherhood or deserving of our admiration. Watch this film. And appreciate the message.
on June 27, 2005
For a WWII film with a budget under $1 million, they have not only told a forgotten story with clarity and insight, the supurb editing, dramatic soundtack and good acting along with the realistic scenes plus a solid screeplay all combined to make this movie an excellent buy.Six decades after the Malmady incident, someone finally had the courage to show that the Americans were not always the angels and the Germans always the demons.As a WWII historian and author I highly recommend it.
Based on real events, a large group of WWII American soldiers are captured behind enemy lines and end up being gunned down by German soldiers, but a few manage to escape. They plan to hide out and wait to be rescued until they encounter a British pilot who has important information that could save the lives of a lot of American soldiers. They must risk their lives to try to sneak back through enemy-infested woods.
As you watch this movie it never occurs to you that this is an independent and low-budget film. As they point out in the additional features included on the DVD, you wouldn't expect the fantastic set and authentic props seen here. There's nothing small-scale about it, either; there are lots of extras (all wearing authentic-looking uniforms) and the action isn't compromised in any way. But not only is it an intense movie, the interpersonal relations between the soldiers is shown in such a real way that few war movies manage to capture. And while I'm tempted to compare this movie to "Saving Private Ryan," "Saints and Soldiers" manages to tell a great story in a powerful and human way without the stomach-churning gore, and almost leaves you feeling inspired and uplifted.