Saints and Soldiers Movie Review
Saints and Soldiers is lovingly produced on a small budget by Ryan Little, a young director who seems obsessed with WWII. The story is based on actual events in mid-December, 1944 in Belgium (at least as they are understood today) at the Battle of the Bulge. Americans are captured by the Germans, and when they try to escape, a number are gunned down. The handful of survivors escape into the woods and try to figure out how to get back to the Allies, made all the more important due to critical information held by a British officer they encounter along the way.
If you're feeling a Saving Private Ryan vibe you're not alone. Saints is remarkably derivative of the 1998 classic, with its band of rough and tumble guys on a seemingly impossible mission. The catch is while Ryan's characters were all unique and memorable to a fault, Soldiers' bland heroes are not. The only two that stand out at all are the Brit (due to his accent) and one character who is a German sympathizer. The other members of the troop could be anyone, and the actors playing them all come across like grumpy GI's who lost their personality on D-Day.
Little's budget constraints are telling at times. It doesn't say so in the press notes, but the film seems to be shot on digital video -- it's either really good DV or really bad 35mm film -- and at times the harsh shadows and jerky handheld action don't properly wash. The battle scenes (shot in the snowy mountains in Utah) feel realistic but are terribly small in scope. You can shoot off 5,000 rounds of blanks until you're blue in the face, but it it's only a handful of people doing the shooting it doesn't come across as appropriately epic. At times, the cast limitations give the film an absurd Monty Python feel -- near the end, Little brings out the big guns, literally, as the two sides shoot rockets at one another. One soldier misses his target and the rocket impacts directly with a wispy tree that's otherwise sticking out of a barren hillside, blowing it to pieces. Predator never got this goofy.
Little's heart is in the right place and the quieter scenes among the men fare much better, but the film ultimately proves that war movies are best left to the moneybags. What's next? World War III erupts at the mall?