Review : Saints and Soldiers

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So many stereotypes would ordinarily be laughable, had the actors not committed to their “no atheists in foxholes� dialogue with such utter
conviction. Crossing the crowded wilderness, they encounter innocent civilians, hostile Germans, even taking a Nazi prisoner who Deacon just happened to know when he lived in Berlin as a missionary prior to the war.

Based on actual events which unfolded in the Belgian Forest outside of the town of Malmedy in December of 1944, Saints and Soldiers is an old-fashioned
war saga about a brave band of G.I.s trapped behind enemy lines, trying to make their way back to Allied territory. This quartet represented the
survivors from a battalion of American POWs which had surrendered during the Battle of the Bulge only to be massacred en masse by their German captors.

After opening with the bloody incident surrounding their escape, this character-driven picture settles-down considerably, taking its sweet time to introduce us to the foursome, individually. Unfortunately, each is a recognizable archetype from the average war flick cranked out in the 40s and 50s in the wake of the war.

Of course, there's Sarge (Peter Holden), the grizzled vet from Chicago, and Gould (Alexander Niver), the atheist, Jewish medic from Brooklyn with the
Noo Yawk accent. We also have Deacon (Corbin Allred), a shell-shocked sharpshooter from Arizona who likes to consult his tiny Bible for comfort,
and Shirl (Lawrence Bagby), a macho redneck from Louisiana saddled with a girl's name. He gets teased about it in ways reminiscent of Leslie Nielsen
in Airplane.

So many stereotypes would ordinarily be laughable, had the actors not committed to their “no atheists in foxholes� dialogue with such utter conviction. Crossing the crowded wilderness, they encounter innocent civilians, hostile Germans, even taking a Nazi prisoner who Deacon just happened to know when
he lived in Berlin as a missionary prior to the war.

When they save a British paratrooper (Kirby Heyborne) who’d been shot out of the sky, their mission is suddenly imbued with meaning above and beyond
mere survival, because he’s carrying surveillance photos of critical military import. While the movie has its moments, it's hard to buy the idea that anybody’s really crossing a frigid, snow-covered tundra, when you never, ever see anybody's breath. It was shot entirely in Utah, and apparently under conditions which were not nearly sub-freezing. Although this production seems in search of a script, at least it did not skimp when it came to costumes and sets, as the
uniforms are painstakingly-reproduced reproductions, while all the guns and military vehicles are completely authentic loaners from private collectors.

But that's isn’t enough to elevate a videotaped war buff recreation to the level of Saving Private Ryan.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for war violence and related images.
(In English, German and French, but without subtitles)
Running time: 90 minutes
Distributor: Excel Entertainment

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