Based on actual events, Saints and Soldiers tells the gripping story of a small band of Allied soldiers trapped behind enemy lines with information that could save thousands of American lives. Outgunned and ill-equipped, they battle a frigid wilderness and roving German troops in order to smuggle the critical intelligence back to Allied territory.
I blame my brothers.
They were the ones who got me to watch this film in the first place. They’d seen it before and detailed all the funny parts in such a way that I wanted to see it too. I wasn’t really interested in WWII at the time (that would come later), but I had an empty night that needed to be filled and since there was nothing better to do, I decided to give Saints and Soldiers a go. I thought it would be a typical, somewhat boring war movie that was peppered with funny moments.
Hahahahaha…no. No. No, no, no.
For the first hour or so, things were fine. (except for the initial massacre scene which was cry-worthy) A band of soldiers trying to get important information behind enemy lines. There was excitement and danger and few moments that made me choke up a little. There was characterization. There was plot. There was, I’ll admit, humour. And none of it was boring. All good, right? Then came the last half hour of the film and, honestly, it’s like act two of Les Miserables. People started dying, lots of people, all the characters I’d come to care about, and it was awful. As in ‘staring at the screen and ugly crying’ awful. Oh…I just remembered that I actually knew about one character’s death, because my brothers told me, but I totally forgot about it until it actually happened. That was horrible.
I never asked for any of it! I thought it was just going to be a regular war movie, like the ones from ‘the olden days’, where none of the main characters died, the mission was a total success, and everyone went on their merry way by the end. (actually, I take that back about characters never dying in old movies – have you seen The Devil’s Brigade?) Nope. Not happening. And then I re-watched it a few days ago, thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad as I remembered. It was. It was actually worse, because whenever I laughed during the funny scenes, I felt guilty because the screenwriters take all the funny moments and turn them into something absolutely heartbreaking right near the end. (trying to stay away from spoilers mainly for you, Ashley) Whyyyyyy???
Okay, okay. I guess I should try to write this like a proper review. So I’ll talk about the characters.
If I can manage to do that without bursting into tears.
Seriously. I have so. many. feelings. about each and every character. There’s Deacon, the shell-shocked anti-hero who never misses a shot (except once…), who reads his Bible and prays, who never kissed his wife until their wedding day (UGGGGGH. My heart. Melted.), who just found out his wife’s expecting a baby, who’s tortured by memories of a mission gone wrong. Deacon is my favorite character and I doubt I’ll ever be able to pass a day without having feels about him. He’s one of my favorite fictional characters, period.
Then there’s all the other characters. Gunderson, the sergeant who I didn’t expect to like all that much but ended up liking nearly as much as Deacon. Kendrick, a Southern private who lends comic relief to the film. Gould, the more-than-a-little obnoxious medic who has the biggest character changes of anyone. And Winley, the British flight sergeant who carries important information in a handwritten code only he can read (so they kind of have to get him back in one piece).
Filmed in a month, on a budget of less than a million, Saints and Soldiers is still one of the finer war movies I’ve ever seen. The story, perhaps, isn’t the most original – a small band of soldiers have to get important information back to their lines – but it’s presented well and the acting is phenomenal. A lot of indie films have less than stellar actors and actresses, but the casting director for Saints and Soldiers pulled together an amazing cast. There isn’t one moment, in my opinion, where the acting faltered. Especially not the death scenes, which are kind of hard to pull off without being cheesy.
All in all, Saints and Soldiers is an excellent war movie, an emotionally satisfying story, and a triumph for independent films everywhere. I can’t recommend it highly enough.