Saints and Soldiers

Saints and Soldiers

Infobox_Film
name = Saints and Soldiers


director = Ryan Little
producer = Adam Abel, Ryan Little
writer = Geoffrey Panos, Matt Whitaker
starring = Corbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, Lawrence Bagby, Peter Holden
distributor = Excel Entertainment Group
released = 2003
runtime = 90 min.
language = English
imdb_id = 0373283
music =
awards =
budget = $780,000
tagline = There is a time for heroes.

"Saints and Soldiers" is a war film released by Excel Entertainment Group in August, 2004. The movie is about a small group of soldiers who are trapped deep behind enemy lines following the infamous Malmedy massacre that took place during World War II's Battle of the Bulge. The soldiers have vital enemy intelligence in their possession and decide to deliver it to the front lines, over 20 miles away. Success would require surviving the roving German troops and the frigid Ardennes forest. Armed with only one rifle, the men meet obstacle after obstacle, and must deal with the challenges, as well as the tension between their conflicting emotions. Things get increasingly more desperate until the climactic showdown with the German Army that tests the courage, honor, and camaraderie of the men.

Synopsis

The movie opens three weeks after the Malmedy massacre (presumably January 14 - January 15, 1945) with American forces documenting the scene and recovering the bodies. Exposition is provided by a radio broadcast from London explaining what has happened and that those responsible will be found and dealt with appropriately.

The movie then goes to the day of the Malmedy massacre, December 17, 1944. The four initial, main characters receive some screen time, and all but one have some dialogue as they stand in a group as prisoners of war. Suddenly, one of the unnamed soldiers breaks from the group and attempts to escape. A German soldier screams for him to halt, and when he doesn't, he's gunned down. The remainder of the prisoners become restless, and a German officer fires a few bursts into the air. In response, a panic begins to break out. During a sudden scramble, an Allied prisoner grabs a rifle from a German soldier and shoots him with it. Another German, in turn, kills that man. As a result, some of the prisoners break to run, while a few try to stay put and keep calm. But when the Germans open fire on the prisoners, the entire group of Allied prisoners break and run. (See Malmedy massacre below.) Roughly half of them make it to the woods.

A German soldier manages to find Gould and another soldier hiding in the woods behind a fallen tree. The two surrender but the German shoots the other soldier with Gould, so Gould takes cover again. As the German is slowly advancing in order to shoot Gould, Deacon jumps the German and takes his rifle. The German surrenders, and Deacon lets him run off into the woods. Gould protests this by insisting that the German should have been killed. This sets up the initial tension between Gould and Deacon.

Back at the site of the massacre, two Germans are seen shooting survivors. The Germans then leave in a convoy. Kendrick, who has been feigning dead, gets up and runs in to the forest.

Gould and Deacon are soon joined by two other survivors of the massacre. They introduce themselves to each other (but where they are from actually comes later). Private Steven Gould (Alexander Niver) is from Brooklyn Heights, New York City. He introduces Private Shirley "Shirl" Kendrick (Lawrence Bagby), who is also with the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion from Louisiana. Staff Sergeant Gordon Gunderson [Named after Holden's grandfather who fought in the Battle of the Bulge — DVD commentary] (Peter Holden) with the 101st Airborne Division is from the south side of Chicago. He introduces Corporal Nathan "Deacon" Greer (Corbin Allred) also with the 101st from Snowflake, Arizona. The others see Deacon looking at a photo of his wife. [This is an actual photo of Corbin Allred's maternal grandmother that his grandfather carried during World War II — DVD commentary]

Kendrick wants to immediately rejoin his unit, but Gunderson figures that since they're behind enemy lines and that the rifle that they have only has four shots, they'll have a better chance of surviving if they hide out until the allies take over the territory again. They assume this will only be a couple of days. They walk for a bit and soon find an abandoned building and hide out in it. While hiding, a German patrol comes along, so the soldiers hide under the floor while the Germans occupy the upstairs room and eat a meal. Suddenly, they all hear a distant explosion and Deacon overhears (and understands) the German radio conversation about a plane crashing. The Germans then leave. The Americans emerge and decide to leave as well.

The American soldiers find a pilot who parachuted from the crashing plane, RAF pilot, Flight Sergeant Oberon Winley. When the Americans release the parachute harness, Winley falls down and immediately grabs Kendrick, holding a pistol to him. Winley demands proof that the men who cut him down are indeed Americans, and not Germans in disguise. Eventually, Winley is convinced and lets Kendrick go. (This, and Winley not sharing his cigarettes with Kendrick sets up some tension between the two of them.)

We soon learn that Winley had been sent on a mission to gather intelligence about this German advance and had found out that it was a major offensive. (This offensive later becomes known as the "Battle of the Bulge".) Winley had been shot down by a German fighter before he'd been able to get back across the line. These five must then get to where they can get the intelligence back to Allied troops while the German panzer divisions are advancing in the same direction. The line is currently about 15 to 20 miles away, and Winley is the only one who can interpret the notes that he took in the plane.

Deacon hasn't slept for three or four days and Gould has noticed that Deacon is very edgy. He tells Gunderson about this and suggests that it might be a bad idea to have the rifle in Deacon's possession. Gunderson assures Gould that Deacon should keep the rifle because, "he's the best shot I know." Gould is still unhappy. Shortly afterward, Deacon has a hallucination in the woods and breaks down. Gould is infuriated by this. Gunderson sits down with Gould and quietly explains why Deacon is so edgy.

:"Last Thursday, we ran into some Krauts in a little town in the Elsenborn Ridge. They were pulling out, but this one little bastard was holed-up inside a church. I sent Deacon to take him out. It was dark in there. Somebody took a shot at him. So he threw in a grenade, sprayed the room. Went up and took the guy out. In the room ... was two women and six kids. It was a mess. When it was over, Deac just... flipped out. Our C.O. gave me a jeep to have him checked out at St. Vith. We got captured about an hour before you guys ran into them at Malmedy. You don't mention this to him. Do you understand me, Gould?"

Afterward, the men move on, but Kendrick suddenly falls through the roof of an old building that had been covered by the snow. Due to his accident, they decide to search for shelter. Eventually, they come across a house and hide in the ground floor room. When Gunderson hears opera music coming from the upstairs, he investigates. There he finds a woman and girl who speak French, Catherine and Sophie Theary, respectively. He brings them down and introduces them to the other soldiers. Catherine kisses each of the soldiers on each cheek, but Sophie kisses Deacon, and only Deacon. Catherine and Sophie then leave. This encounter affects Deacon, and he is then able to sleep for the first time in days. [On the DVD commentary, this is specifically pointed out as giving Deacon enough relief to finally be able to sleep.]

The snow storm gets worse, so Gunderson figures that the Germans will be pinned down and immobile. He suggests staying the night where they are. But Winley insists that he must get the information to the Allied troops so he leaves during the storm, knowing that he probably won't make it. The others are sure he will die in the cold.

When the storm lets up a little, Catherine brings some bread to the soldiers. While she is feeding the soldiers, two Germans arrive in a vehicle. To divert the Germans from the room where the Americans are hiding, she goes out to talk to them. One of the Germans is scouting the building while the other takes an interest in Catherine as a woman. She yells, "No!" Deacon bursts out of the building and tells the Germans to surrender. The second German, who had come to see about the commotion, drops his rifle. The one holding Catherine pulls his pistol and Deacon shoots him. The other soldier flees. Deacon goes for the German soldier's rifle, and shoots several times but misses. Gunderson runs after the escaping German soldier, but fails to find him.

Winley arrives shortly thereafter, with a German prisoner, the one who had escaped. Gould, Gunderson, Kendrick and Winley are vigorously debating whether to shoot the German now or not. When the German looks up, Deacon recognizes him and says "Rudi?" Deacon and Rudi hug, talk briefly in German and then Deacon introduces him as Rudolph Gertz. Deacon tells them that while a missionary in Berlin, he had taught Rudi's family. The fact Deacon had missed shooting Rudi is seen as a freak coincidence. Enthusiastic to see each other, Deacon and Rudi sit against the wall opposite the door and talk most of the night while the others sit at a table discussing the two of them. Catherine visits them later, giving each of the Allied soldiers a cookie and a special German pastry to Rudi. [The director wanted the German pastry for Catherine to give to the German prisoner not realizing that it would be much larger than the cookies Catherine would be giving to the other soldiers.] Rudi uses the tinfoil that was used to wrap the pastry to form the figure of an angel. At midnight, Gould begins his turn at watch.

In the morning, before sunrise, Sophie discovers the tin angel on a window sill outside of the building. Gould (who has the watch) wakes up and discovers that Rudi is gone. He immediately accuses Deacon of having let him go, but Gunderson defends Deacon. Deacon then admits that he had let Rudi go, in exchange for information. Rudi has told Deacon where the German troops are massed and has suggested a route to get through the lines, about five miles away.

The German vehicle is almost out of gasoline, so they raid it for weapons and set out on the route that they have been given. They soon come upon a small group of German soldiers. While they are deciding whether to wait or to go around, Gunderson is fatally shot from the other direction. Deacon takes out the sniper, but the other Germans become aware of the gunfire, seek out its source and begin firing on the Allied soldiers. Winley is hit in the leg, and as a result is slowed down. After much running, the Allied soldiers manage to make it to the remains of a stone building where Gould removes the bullet from Winley's leg. They exchange some more fire with the Germans and manage to escape in two groups. While carrying Winley, Kendrick is fatally hit and Winley in turn kills the German who shot Kendrick. In sorrow, Winley breaks down as he attempts to give dying Kendrick a smoke, but his lighter fails and Kendrick dies. Winley manages to make it a little further but falls in a stream. Deacon and Gould find him on the bank, wet and very cold. While they are caring for Winley, Rudolph "Rudi" Gertz finds them. He tells them where a jeep is that they can use, and goes off in the direction of the pursuing Germans.

The three remaining Allied soldiers strip three dead German soldiers for their uniforms and take the jeep. The German front line is about half-a-mile away, and the trio knows that they must find a way to get through it without being killed. When they reach the Germans, they are ordered to stop. The German officer who stopped them explains the situation, then asks Gould a question in German which he cannot respond to. To grab the officer's attention, Deacon yells something in German, asking for help with the jeep in the mud. In response, several German soldiers start pushing the jeep out of the mud that it is resting in. But the officer remains edgy, so Deacon drives straight through the crowd of Germans and speeds toward the distant Allied front line. The Germans, in turn, open fire on the jeep.

The Allied forward observers see the Allied jeep with men in German uniforms approaching, but don't quite know what to do. When they see that they are exchanging fire with other Germans they decide that they must be Allied and they provide cover fire. While trying to avoid the German fire, Deacon goes off of the road and the jeep overturns. Deacon tells Gould to take Winley and go; he'll be right behind. However, Deacon is fatally shot by a sniper. Gould manages to escape with Winley. They reach the allies, who take the two of them prisoner (because they are wearing German uniforms). Shortly, Winley is sent off in a jeep with his information.

The Allied troops are able to take the territory some time later. With the fighting over, Gould visits Deacon's body and takes the small Bible that Deacon had offered him earlier, but leaves the photo in it with Deacon's body. Some German prisoners then walk by under the guard of Allied soldiers. One of them is Rudi. Gould nods at him and Rudi smiles. Gould, who hated all Germans at the beginning, then goes to treat a wounded German soldier.

This turns out to be the same German soldier who hit Gould with his rifle in the opening scene and was later jumped by Deacon after he killed a soldier standing next to Gould when they tried to surrender. They recognize each other but as the movie ends, Gould kneels down to treat his wounds. [DVD release of film]

Historical premise

Malmedy massacre

Ryan Little (director), Adam Abel (Producer) and Matt Whitaker (writer) give background and insight in to the movie 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."

However, the film's representation of the massacre is at odds with the commonly accepted record of the start of the massacre:

:"A tank pulled up, and a truck shortly thereafter. A single SS officer pulled out a pistol and shot a medical officer standing in the front row, and then shot the man standing next to the medical officer. Other soldiers joined in with machine guns. It is not known why this happened; there is no record of an order by an SS officer.... Several accounts claim the Germans only started shooting after several US soldiers tried to escape into the neighbouring woods. Furthermore, that the shooting of prisoners was started by an SS officer has never been confirmed; however, accounts claim there might have been warning shots fired. What has been confirmed is that the Germans had been shooting the critically wounded after the main shooting, but this was standard practice in the German army (and thus also happened to German soldiers)." (from the Wikipedia article)

Actual events

At the beginning of the movie 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:
*There was a group of Allied soldiers that hid under the floor of a building while some 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 faith.
*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.

Production and release

"Saints and Soldiers" was released on video and DVD in May, 2005. 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 were able to obtain dozens of re-enactors, extras, and rare period equipment. The film was rated PG-13 for war violence and related images.

Production went smoothly and the movie opened at film festivals nationwide, where it won 14 Best Picture Awards. It was the highest grossing film ever produced by Excel Entertainment. It grossed over $1 million, and continues to make considerable profit from rentals.

Cast

* Corbin Allred as Corporal Nathan "Deacon" Greer
* Alexander Polinsky as Private Steven Gould (credited as Alexander Niver)
* Kirby Heyborne as Flight Sergeant Oberon Winley
* Larry Bagby as Private Shirley "Shirl" Kendrick (credited as Lawrence Bagby)
* Peter Asle Holden as Staff Sergeant Gordon "Gundy" Gunderson (credited as Peter Holden)
* Ethan Vincent as Schütze Rudolph "Rudi" Gertz
* Melinda Renee as Catherine Theary
* Ruby Chase O'Neil as Sophie Theary

Religious overtones

Although this film can be classified as a movie about Allied soldiers during World War II, it can also be generalized to any soldier, from either side of the battlefield. Kendrick, Gunderson and Winley don't make any identifications regarding religion; Gould says that he doesn't believe in an afterlife. Deacon's religion is identified on the commentary track as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Clues of this are given in the movie: he is from Snowflake, Arizona (founded and densely populated by Mormons), he served a mission to Berlin, Germany, every spare moment he is seen reading a small book 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 "The Deacon"."

There is some antagonism between Gould and Deacon that comes to the surface several times during the movie. But when it comes down to it, they protect each other, regardless of their differences. During an exchange during the movie, Deacon offers Gould his book (which contains scriptures). Gould refuses, and Deacon responds by saying that for someone who isn't interested, Gould sure has a lot of questions. At the end of the movie, Gould takes it from Deacon's front, right pocket.

MPAA rating

"Saints and Soldiers" was originally rated "R" by the MPAA. The director, writers and producer wanted a rating of PG-13. The director had this to say on the commentary track of the DVD when 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 a horrific way is worthy of this rating."

Some criticism has been leveled against the MPAA rating board with regard to them rating independent films more harshly than those of the large studios. (See also "LDS cinema and MPAA ratings".) Producers edited the movie to receive PG-13 for commercial distribution.

References

External links

* [http://www.saintsandsoldiers.com/ Official site]
* [http://imdb.com/title/tt0373283/ IMDb link]


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