Saints and Soldiers
|Saints and Soldiers|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ryan Little|
|Produced by||Adam Abel|
|Screenplay by||Geoffrey Panos|
|Story by||Geoffrey Panos|
Peter Asle Holden
|Music by||Jason Bateman|
|Edited by||Wynn Hougaard|
|Distributed by||Excel Entertainment Group|
|Box office||$1.3 million|
Saints and Soldiers is a 2003 war drama film directed by Ryan Little and starring Corbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, Lawrence Bagby, and Peter Asle Holden. It is loosely based on events that took place after the Malmedy massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, where four U.S. soldiers and a downed British airman need to reach Allied lines to pass on some vital intelligence. The film received mostly positive reviews. It was followed by Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed and Saints and Soldiers: The Void.
In 1944, Allied troops have defeated the Germans after the Battle of the Bulge. In Malmedy, Belgium, they find and uncover the frozen bodies of over 70 American soldiers who were held prisoners and killed by their German captors. Three weeks earlier, the prisoners, members of the 101st Airborne Division and 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion are rounded up and searched by the German troops while medic Steven Gould (Alexander Niver) tries to help a seriously wounded American soldier. One soldier tries to escape, and is shot dead, causing confusion and fear from the prisoners. The Germans open fire on the prisoners, in what is known as the Malmedy massacre, killing many troops as they try to run away. The soldier Gould tried to save is shot dead and Gould manages to escape with Corporal Nathan 'Deacon' Greer (Corbin Allred). Deacon disarms a German but doesn't shoot him, even at Gould's insistence.
Gould and Deacon are joined by two other survivors, Shirl Kendrick (Larry Bagby), a member in Gould's division, and Deacon's close friend Sergeant Gordon Gunderson (Peter Asle Holden). Gunderson explains it would be better to hide out until the Allies retake the area and the four hide out in an abandoned building. When a German patrol comes along, the soldiers hide under the floor. While there Deacon loosely translates a German message about a downed plane in the area. Leaving after the Germans, the Americans find RAF pilot Flight Sergeant Oberon Winley (Kirby Heyborne).
Winley explains he has important intelligence photographs he has to get back to the Allies and the group decide to try and reach the Allied lines some 20 miles away. While on point, Deacon has a hallucination and breaks down. Gunderson explains that Deacon had inadvertently, when clearing a building during an earlier mission, killed two women and six children recently. Gould begins to criticize Deacon for not shooting the German and for being religious. Deacon offers him his Book of Mormon, which Gould refuses. Deacon says that Gould is asking too many questions for someone who is not interested in religion.
Shortly afterwards, Kendrick falls through the roof of an old building that had been covered by the snow. Looking for shelter, Gunderson enters a house and finds a woman and girl who speak French, Catherine and Sophie Theary. A coming snow storm causes Gunderson to surmise that the Germans will be pinned down and immobilized. He suggests staying the night but Winley insists that he must get the information to the Allied troops and leaves during the storm. The others are sure he will die in the cold.
Catherine brings some bread to the soldiers. While she is with the soldiers, two Germans arrive and Catherine talks to them. One German starts scouting the building while the other attempts to rape Catherine. She yells and Deacon kills one German and misses the other as he runs into the woods. Winley returns with this German as his prisoner. Deacon recognizes the German as Rudolph, a convert during his mission serving as a minister for his Church in Berlin. Deacon understands then why he, who was well known for never failing to hit what he aimed at, missed Rudolph.
In the morning, Deacon has let Rudolph go, after Rudolph had told him where the Germans lines were and how to get through them. With captured weapons they set out but soon encounter a small group of German soldiers. Gunderson is fatally shot by a sniper, whom Deacon then kills. More Germans attack and Winley is hit in the leg. During the firefight the Allied group is split in two. While carrying Winley, Kendrick is shot in the stomach and dies. Winley kills the German and, trying to hobble away, falls into a river. Deacon and Gould find him. While they care for Winley, Rudolph finds them and tells them where there is a jeep, and an escape route they could use with it closer to the Allied lines, then goes off in the direction of the pursuing Germans.
The three remaining Allied soldiers, now dressed as German soldiers, get in the jeep and head toward the German lines. They manage to talk their way past a German guard (as Deacon speaks fluent German) but when they veer towards the American lines the Germans open fire. Speeding toward the safety of the American lines (where observers work out they are Allied soldiers) the jeep is overturned by mortar fire. Deacon gives covering fire as Gould and Winley head for safety. Deacon is killed by a sniper, and before he dies, he sees the spirits of the women and children he killed one last time. Gould and Winley make it through and the important intelligence is passed on to headquarters. Winley is then transported to a medical station because of his injuries.
As Gould sees Deacon's body being carried away, he takes out Deacon's Bible, places the photo of Deacon's wife into Deacon's hands and keeps the book, which Deacon had offered to him earlier, and wishes him to rest in peace. After this, he looks up and sees a P-51 Mustang fighter flying over, signaling that the weather is improving, and the turning of the tide in the battle. Gould encounters a now captured Rudolph, nods to him, with Rudolph answering back in kind, and then helps an injured German soldier whom he recognizes from the massacre at the start of the film.
- Corbin Allred as Corporal Nathan "Deacon" Greer
- Alexander Niver as Private Steven Gould
- Kirby Heyborne as Flight Sergeant Oberon Winley
- Larry Bagby as Private Shirley "Shirl" Kendrick
- Peter Asle Holden as Staff Sergeant Gordon "Gundy" Gunderson
- Ethan Vincent as Rudolph Gertz
- Melinda Renee as Catherine Theary – Belgian woman
- Ruby Chase O'Neil as Sophie Theary – Catherine's daughter
- Lincoln Hoppe as German soldier
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Ryan Little (director), Adam Abel (Producer) and Matt Whitaker (writer) give background and insight into the film and its historicity on the commentary track of the DVD. In this commentary, before the massacre, after a shot of a German soldier lighting a cigarette for one of their prisoners, Whitaker and Little discussed the scene:
- Whitaker: "That shot right there, I just thought was so well .... I remember when you and I talked, Ryan, we talked about putting things in there showing a German lighting a cigarette for an American prisoner of war. And with that shot you kind of establish right off that this is not your typical war movie. This is not the bad guys/good guys. We're showing that there were levels and elements of good and bad, you know, in everybody there."
- Little: "Yeah, I think you're right. I think, you know .... When Geoffrey had done so much research on the Malmedy massacre, and presented it as the idea .... There are so many accounts about what happened. And, you know, it's interesting. We didn't know exactly where to kinda, you know, what point of view to take and so I guess we all, as we discussed it, we kinda decided that maybe more of a kinda neutral approach."
At the beginning of the film is the text "based on actual events". Besides World War II, the Malmedy massacre and the Battle of the Bulge, the commentary mentions the following events that actually happened to soldiers in World War II:
- A group of Allied soldiers hid under the floor of a building while German soldiers had dinner in the room above them.
- An Allied sharpshooter had shot at, and missed, a German soldier. When that German soldier was later captured, he and the sharpshooter discovered that they were of the same religion.
- A German prisoner of war used some tin foil (that had wrapped something in the meal that he had eaten) to form the figure of an angel.
Several members of the 101st Airborne Division are depicted as being present at the massacre. In reality, the 101st was held in strategic reserve by SHAEF at this point in time to recover from combat in Operation Market-Garden. The 101st did not reach the front until December 18 (the massacre was on the 17th), and was sent to Bastogne, far to the south of where Kampfgruppe Joachim Peiper operated. Most of the victims were from the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.
The events of the massacre are depicted as taking place in deep snow, while in fact it snowed heavily only the day after the massacre.
Production and release
First-time director Ryan Little teamed up with actors Corbin Allred, Peter Holden, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, and Lawrence Bagby, along with a small production team to make the film. It was shot in the forested hills of northern Utah with a budget of less than $1 million. However, through special connections, the production team was able to obtain dozens of re-enactors, extras, and rare period equipment.
Saints and Soldiers was originally rated "R" by the MPAA, solely for war violence and related images, not for nudity or sexual situations. The director, writers, and producer wanted a rating of "PG-13". Little said the following on the commentary track of the DVD about the scene where Gunderson is fatally shot:
- Little: "The majority of the people who bought this are probably aware that Saints and Soldiers, when it was originally rated, received a "R" rating. And as we went through that process, for lack of a better term, went to war with the MPAA to find out what it was that we did that constituted a "R" rating, this was one of those scenes that came to them. And again, it came to personalized violence. They said, you care about these characters, and to see them die in an horrific way is worthy of this rating."
Some criticism has been leveled against the MPAA rating board with regard to their rating independent films more harshly than those of the large studios. (See also "LDS cinema and MPAA ratings".) Producers edited the film to receive a "PG-13" rating for commercial distribution.
Production went smoothly and the film opened at film festivals nationwide. It was the highest-grossing film ever produced by Excel Entertainment. It grossed over $1 million.
Saints and Soldiers was released on video and DVD in May 2005.
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Although this film is classified as a film about Allied soldiers during World War II, it can also be generalized to any soldier, from either side of the battlefield. In the film, Kendrick, Gunderson and Winley do not make any identifications regarding religion, but Gould says that he does not believe in an afterlife. Deacon's religion is not mentioned in the film itself, but is implied by his devotion to his Book of Mormon and is identified on the commentary track as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the film it is revealed that he is from Snowflake, Arizona, served a church mission in Berlin, Germany, spends every spare moment reading The Book of Mormon, and the following is said of him by Gunderson:
- "Deacon's the squarest guy I know. He's from some little backwards town in Arizona. Doesn't drink. Doesn't smoke. He doesn't even like coffee. That's why they call him 'Deacon'."
Hence the reference to the church office of a deacon. There is some antagonism between Gould and Deacon, but they protect each other, regardless of their differences.
The Excel Entertainment Group is heavily influenced by the LDS (Mormon) Church and the film's content reflects this. "LDS people see our films as a mirror." Jeff Simpson (CEO) says of his products. "But they are also a window into the LDS culture."
- "Boxofficemojo.com". Boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- Wadley, Carma (5 February 2004). "R rating stuns 'Saints' makers: They promise to pursue a PG-13 for WWII drama". Deseret News. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
- "Excel Entertainment Group: Corporate Bio". Ldsfilm.com. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- "» Saints & Soldiers 2". Saintsandsoldiers2.com. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- "SEE RANK Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed". IMDB. Retrieved 25 July 2012.