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.

Everyman´s War (2009) is retelling The Battle of the Bulge

I don´t really know what to say about this movie. Basically I think it is a missed chance. It contains too many flaws to be really good but still has quite a few touching moments. One would like to grab the filmmaker and give him a good shaking because it would not have needed much to be satisfying.

Everyman´s War is based on the story of Thad Smith´s, the film director´s father. Sgt. Don Smith was part of the 94th Infantry Division fighting for Nennig, a small town in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was one of those notorious big battles that had to show up with an enormous cost in lives. Being one of the decisive battles, the last big Nazi offensive, it overshadows other battles like the one at Hurtgen Forest that was so skillfully depicted in When Trumpets Fade. The battle of  Bastogne Forest that we saw in Band of Brothers is also part of the Battle of the Bulge. Smith lands in Europe around Christmas 1944, just when the offensive begins and stays in Europe until the end of the war.

The tragedy of the battle is well shown in Everyman´s War. The Army command misjudging the German´s will to fight thought they would never attack during ice-cold weather, snow and temperatures below zero. But they did.

Sgt. Smith´s courageous fight, the love for his comrades and his despair about losing them is well shown. So are the battle scenes. As long as there is no music all is fine. Sadly the choice of music is bad and ostentatiously corny. And so is the background story, the home front bits  (think the end of Saving Private Ryan and dip it in sirup).

This is frustrating as the main theme, alluded to in the title, is nicely executed. This was everyman´s war. Everybody was in it. The French, the English, the Americans, but also the Germans and the German Jews. Moments where the film achieves to make us feel sorry for everyman involved are truly good.

One last word on the use of language that will only annoy people who understand German. 90% of the actors impersonating German´s are not Germans and have bad accents and an unintentionally funny way of pronouncing the German words. However this will not bother speakers of other languages. Apart from that the portrait of Germans is quite just.

Having said all this I just think it is a pity. This could have been a good film but now we are left with a 3 (out of 5) star achievement.