The worlds of religion and war clash in the 2003 World War II film Saints and Soldiers. In his feature film debut, Ryan Little directs a cast of unknowns in the critically acclaimed true story of four American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. The soldiers, escapees of the Malmadey Massacre, find and rescue a British pilot with vital information, written in a code only he can decipher, that will save the lives of hundreds of Allied troops. The five men set out against the weather in enemy territory with limited weapons, shelter, and food.
The best thing Little does with this film is the casting. The actors are all unknown to me, and due to this, I never had a sense of who would live and who could possibly die. There are characters that die in this film, and true to form, they are unexpected deaths. There are no long speeches, no dying words, just being hit, and meeting your maker. One of the main ideas behind the film is our main character Nathan Greer, nicknamed “Deacon” for his religious beliefs. Deacon is fluent and friendly with German troops as before joining the military, he was in Germany as a missionary in what he describes as the best time of his life. Deacon is shaken, as he’s made mistakes during his time in war, and he struggles to overcome and let his mind rest. For him the only way to put his mind at ease is to take in the words of the Bible. What I really liked about this film is that while religion is a topic of the film, it’s not completely shoved down the throats of the audience. It’s there if you want it, and it’s also brief enough to where if you don’t care for that sort of thing, it’s easy to ignore.
I do want to talk briefly about the cast again. Deacon, played by Corbin Allred has an expressive face that’s straight out of the graphic novel The Other Side by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart. I was struck by how similar this actor looked at times during the film to the main character in The Other Side. Alexander Polinsky plays the medic Steven Gould who doesn’t believe in religion and states that dead is dead. He has a vague BJ Novak look so I kept being reminded of Ryan Howard during the film. The other two actors are fine but I don’t have anything particular to say about them as they were a little more two dimensional. My favorite performance from the cast however, is by Peter Holden playing the role of Staff Sargeant Gordon Gunderson. Holden has this piercing look about him that combined with the uniform just screams military officer. He’s the prototypical soldier in appearance and his body language reflects this as well. At one point in the film Deacon is stared down by an aggressive Sgt Gunderson and that’s truly a frightening moment and a wonderful scene. While the film doesn’t match up to the high level of something like Band of Brothers, it’s well crafted, especially when considering it’s an independent film and not made on a large budget. The overall experience I had was a positive one and I don’t particularly have anything negative to say about the film. I did wish the film would have been about 20 minutes longer. With a run time of 90 minutes maximum, the film was a little too quick and didn’t allow the audience to sit in the misery long enough with these brave, scared, honorable young men.