Saints and Soldiers (2003) War Movie With A Religious Theme

Saints and Soldiers is loosely based on a true story, the Malmedy massacre. During The Battle of the Bulge, in 1944, a group of American soldiers got captured and subsequently massacred by Germans near Malmédy. The movie starts with the massacre and follows four of the men who manage to escape and are now deep behind enemy lines.

It’s a group of four very different men, one of them very religious. On their way back to their lines they save a British pilot who says that he has important information for the high command.

It is the middle of winter, the snow is high, the forest swarming with German troops and they are constantly in great danger. One of them, Deacon, the religious one, cannot sleep anymore. He has accidentally killed civilians, women and children and cannot forgive himself. He will have plenty of possibilities to atone, don’t worry, or the movie wouldn’t be called Saints and Soldiers.

Now if there is one thing that needs to be handled with care it is the blending of war and religion or let’s say war and Christian faith. There are religious or rather very spiritual undertones in The Thin Red Line but they are not Christian. Platoon got away with it but let’s face it, Platoon is one of a kind. A Midnight Clear, that is very similar to Saints and Soldiers, overdid it and this movie overdid it too.

Something I found insufferable was the pseudo-Brit. They really couldn’t find a British actor for that role? They had to take an American one who is supposedly good at accents? Well, he is not, he sucks.

This is too bad because from a purely cinematographic point of view this movie is beautiful. There are a few haunting images of the snow-covered forest and the story had, despite many clichés (a beautiful and helpful French woman, a German who is good although they are all monsters, some Germans that are monsters, many more Germans who are monsters) a lot of potential. I have a special interest in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Bastogne (brilliantly shown in Band of Brothers) but we don’t see much of this. This is really only the adventurous story of a few men who had to cross enemy territory and find back to their line.

Despite all this I think it does deserve 3/5.

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28 thoughts on “Saints and Soldiers (2003) War Movie With A Religious Theme

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    I’m a little less harsh because it is obviously low budget. Considering what they spent on it and the actors they used, I think it is an admirable effort. The combat scene is actually pretty good. Clearly influenced by SPR. You are right to compare it to A Midnight Clear which is clearly a superior movie.

  2. Novroz says:

    What do you mean by overdid it?

    • It is constatntly present, one of them reads the Bible constantly, then they fall on the floor, arms apart like on a cross. One of them saves somebody which makes him a saint. Why not just a hero? Really annoying. Then I have a problem with religious soldiers who are against swearing, smoking drinking coffee and alcohol but have no problem to kill someone?

      • Novroz says:

        Ah I see…that’s indeed overdo.

      • steve says:

        ……….Dont you think about how horrible they feel about killing someone? without there pain and suffering we would not be free…liberal

      • Sure, I agree, they must feel horrible about it. And I agree reagrding WWII but surely not for later wars.

      • CMoreno says:

        Why is constant prayer or faith a bad thing? It does actually happen in war to some…maybe not all. But would it be so bad. I work for the Catholic Church and in my very personal opinion your statement of ‘over doing it’ is about as odd to me as some people that call our priest ‘too Catholic.’ Can someone love God too much? Is that possible? Is it impossible for soldiers? My husband is in Afghanistan at this very moment. He mentioned to me that one of his guys is Catholic but doesn’t really practice. So, while on Skype I asked him to ask the other if he’d like me send him a rosary. He said he would. I think during war is a very appropriate time to get closer to God. You’re probably more likely to need him at that time. And since most of us don’t think heaven is a given for everyone automatically, its probably a time when being closer to him is good for our ‘eternal’ health. I know for my husband his faith is sometimes the only thing that keeps him sane where he is. but you may just call us ‘holy-rollers’ that’s ok with me. I’ll take it as a high compliment. But thanks to you not so approving review, I will now see the movie. I don’t think anyone can be too faithful to God. And I fully believe the world needs more movies showing that it’s a good thing to love him more.

      • Hi and thanks for your comment.
        My problem wasn’t so much with the fact that he is religious but the way it is shown. I think that was overdone. Maybe when you have seen it you will think very differently and I would like to hear what you thought of it.
        I’m sure religion can be of great comfort in times of war, maybe vital to your psychlogical health. But this isn’t a documentary, it’s a movie. A war movie, which in my opinion could have handled the theme religion in a more balanced way.
        I hope you will tell me how you liked it.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    Is it okay to overdo the religious aspects to balance the absence of religion from most war movies? Which type of war movie is more accurate considering soldiers in combat tend to be more religious than civilians? Saints and Soldiers, Midnight Clear, We Were Soldiers vs. Black Hawk Down, Jarhead, Flags of Our Fathers, etc. Just asking.

    • I don’t know any soldiers therefore I cannot answer the question. I think there is a huge difference as the first you mentioned (with the exception of We Were Soldiers) are WWII movies. I think at that time you would have found more religious soldies + the fought for a just cause. Not something anyone can say about later wars. So maybe, it is OK in WWII movies. Still it is overdone in Saints and Soldiers.

      • warmoviebuff says:

        When you are in a fox hole under artillery fire, it makes no difference what the cause is – you are going to find God.

        Wasn’t your father a soldier? Perhaps you could ask him.

        Actually my question was whether you think it is acceptable to exaggerate the role of religion in order to make up for the ignoring of it in most other movies. It’s a generic question that requires no knowledge of how relgious soldiers were. Sort of like “Is G.I. Jane an appropriate response to the lack of movies about female soldiers?”

      • I interpreted it wrong. I don’ think my father saw God or anything else. He was too buys trying to survive and save his buddies. Nah…
        Maybe seen the way you meant it. It’s good for discussions, like We Were Soldiers is also an inteeresting movie although quite questionable is some respects.

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  5. sgtb says:

    you seem to forget that even up to Viet Nam (at least in the US military), the men who had to fight (some of whom were drafted and went to war rather than to Canada) and others who may have been religious but due to the freedoms they had felt a duty to protect the freedoms for others. I didn’t think that the religious guy in this movie was over done any more than the other guys “non-religions” were over done. In fact, it just seemed like each of them had a stereo-type role to balance the movie – or to fit the “expectations” of the genre. It’s not like these guys are going to war to kill just because they can — as may be the case in some of the crusades and such, but rather they were being patriotic and had to kill to save themselves and/or their fellow soldiers. I thought the aspect of him trusting the German friend of his showed that their religion could span the cultures and gave some “hope” for the fellowman – be he political enemy or not – to the movie. I don’t know how you could not expect it to be about the inner conflict of when is it ok to kill given the title… is self defense murder? is killing to protect others – your family for instance always wrong? It’s hard to say being that we are not in the shoes of those men who have both religious ties of their own as well as a sense of duty to their respective countries…

    • sgtb says:

      (BTW, I don’t mean to say that killing Jews like Hitler did or killing Muslims as was done in the crusades, or killing Americans (who are thought to be “Christian”) by many radical Muslims, or any other religiously motivated war/action is ever right… I am only trying to say that sometimes it may not be as cut and dried for all people in all circumstances.

      • Jason says:

        Just letting you know, while many crusaders (not all of them) DID in fact do horrible things and MURDER woman and children, it would never have happened at all if the Muslims hadn’t invaded Catholic lands in the first place…

  6. I don’t disagree, I had a problem with the way the movie depicted it. Him reading the Bible or ebing religious, I agree, there were religious men who didn’t got for the sake of killing but for a superior motive, freedom etc., I didn’t like the symbolism, I found that overdone. not so much one man’s religion. It just struck me as phony. As I wrote in my post, Platoon has an extremely religious undertone but it’s handle in a different way. Sgt Elias final sacrifice is one of the great moments in war movie history. Not for one second did that bother me, no the religious undertones in The Thin Red Line but A Midnight Clear and this movie annoyed me.
    I remember the sniper in Savin Private Ryan, he is kissing his crucifix before he shoots. That didn’t bother me either.
    We Were Soldiers is another example where I found it overdone. That was clearly Mel Gibbson’s own fanatic (and phony steak) interfering.
    I think it would be a valuable topic to explore, religion and war.

  7. Jason says:

    I don’t understand why everyone is insisting that the religious aspect is “overdone”. In what way is that true? Is it Deacon? His character is extremely religious, but he’s also going through a hard time (as Gould calls it “shell shock”) so it isn’t “overdone” that should consult the bible and pray often. We don’t know that he did (or did not) read the bible every day for the entire war… I’d also like to point out that while Gould is shown as a sort of a (for a lack of a better term) “villain”. All the other characters (including Gould) (who have no religious ties) are shown to also be heroic men. So far all I see is “the religion annoyed me” or “I didn’t like the religion” and no real arguments or reasons why that is the case. Therefore, I must assume (though I’d actually like to be wrong about this) that it comes from a simple hatred for all religion. And we all know where hatred comes from, fear…

    • I can only answer for myself. In my eyes he read the bible constantly and looked like a fanatic to me. That would not have bothered me all that much, what I minded was the symbolism. The movie is infused with Christian symbolism. The washing scene, the falling down with the arms looking like a cross.
      As said as well, Platoon has religious undertones, sacrfice, etc. I didn’t mind that. I just found the treatment in this movie tacky. It seems it can be seen in another way and that’s good and I’m glad others comment here as well. I wasn’t only “annoyed” – I agree, I was, yes – but I mention the instances I found problematic.

      • Jason says:

        Yeah, I guess everyone has a right to not like something. And you’re right, you did actually give instances. But, what is someone like me (who is christian) was upset when a film didn’t have those symbols? That would seem silly right? I just don’t understand why people have a problem with religion in films, Christians don’t normally have problems with films that don’t have religion in them!

      • I guess, I don’t have a general problem, I had one with this movie. Maybe to a certain degree I found it balsphemous. I found it slightly annoying that those soldiers were paralled with Christ.

    • the war movie buff says:

      Jason, you have crossed the line here. It is unacceptable to accuse the reviewer of hatred of religion. The review is clearly not that extreme and the reviewer has clarified herself in previous comments. You are picking a fight and trying to sway people not only to your view but toward your beliefs. I wonder if you would remain such a fan of the movie if you realized that Deacon is a Mormon and that is not the Bible he is reading. How Catholic are you?

  8. Jason says:

    I see where you are coming from now. But the parallels aren’t saying that those men were as good as Christ, but showing that what they did “mirrored” Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (particularly in Deacon’s case because he is the church going one). I have always loved that aspect of the film, but of course I am biased that way because of being Christian. One reason Catholics (like me) love symbolism, is because it reminds us of our long existence over our 2,000 yr history. That is something that protestants and atheists don’t have… Not trying to offend anyone, but that’s the way I see it.

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