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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Saints and Soldiers
Saints and Soldiers
Other // PG-13 // May 31, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Joshua Zyber | posted July 10, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
A wannabe Saving Private Ryan on a shoestring budget, Saints and Soldiers is a World War II drama produced for under $1 million by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Supposedly "Based on Actual Events" (yes, there actually was a war with Germany about 60 years ago), the movie tells the story of four American G.I.s and one British pilot trapped behind enemy lines in German-occupied France. With only one pistol and a rifle with four bullets between them, the soldiers must travel 20 miles by foot to deliver crucial intelligence to Allied forces before the enemy stages a massive offensive that could cost thousands of lives.

Despite its micro budget, the picture does have surprisingly good production values. With the exception of one "blizzard" that looks a lot like a couple of guys behind the camera throwing handfuls of potato flakes at the actors while canned wind sound effects from a library CD play on the soundtrack, the movie has excellent slick photography, convincing period costumes and production design, and two or three very well-staged battle scenes. Filmed entirely in Utah, the snow-covered setting is generic enough to pass for rural France if you don't think about it too much. Unfortunately, the tight finances didn't leave much room for good actors or a decent script.

Director Ryan Little and his screenwriters strive very hard to emulate A Midnight Clear, Keith Gordon's superlative low-budget WWII effort about a squad of Americans and a squad of Germans who set aside the war for a little while one winter night, both in execution and thematic concerns. While Gordon had a cast full of up-and-coming young actors who would go on to greater fame such as Ethan Hawke, Peter Berg, and Gary Sinise, Little has a team of amateurs who'll be lucky to get careers in dinner theater. Saints and Soldiers is also hamstrung by an overly-earnest screenplay loaded with clich├ęd character interaction, lame attempts at humor (one of the main characters is a dumb fat guy from "Loosiana" with a cigarette fixation), and bad speechifying dialogue about religion, man's inhumanity to man, and the nature of war. The Thin Red Line this ain't.

The LDS connection naturally means that the film has a fairly preachy stance about the importance of religion (the lead is a religious bloke nicknamed Deacon), but thankfully doesn't go too far with it and has nothing Mormon-specific that might qualify as propaganda. The movie is actually a lot more heavy-handed with its "humanity" themes, especially once our heroes capture a German soldier who just happens to be a friend of Deacon. You see, they're just like us except for the uniforms. Can't we all just get along?

The DVD
Video:
A million bucks sure can stretch a ways if you know what to do with it. You wouldn't guess the movie's tiny budget from the photography or the picture quality on this DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced image is very sharp and vivid, with excellent color rendition and fine object detail. The picture is also very contrasty, with dark blacks and bright whites. Shadow detail sometimes seems a little crushed, but this appears to be more of a stylistic issue than a DVD transfer flaw.

On the downside, the video has a nearly constant presence of low-amplitude edge enhancement. The edge halos are small enough that they aren't too distracting in many scenes, even on a large screen, but do become bothersome whenever a dark object is contrasted against a bright background, which unfortunately happens quite a lot in this movie about soldiers in dark uniforms trudging across snowy landscapes.

Audio:
Also belying the production's budget is the quality of its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Although much of the movie in between the battle scenes is primarily dialogue, the two or three big action sequences are extremely loud and aggressive, with sharp sound effects and satisfying bass presence. Gunshots have plenty of kick and explosions boom nicely. The discrete surround channels get some workout, and sound effects matrix effectively into a center rear channel if EX-decoding is engaged.

The only negative thing I have to say about the soundtrack is that the "wind" effects during the blizzard scene are obviously library tracks and sound pretty cheesy.

A Dolby 2.0 stereo mix is also available. The disc offers optional English subtitles, but no other language or captioning options.

Extras:
Director Ryan Little, producer Adam Abel, and screenwriter Matt Whitaker provide a chatty audio commentary in which they spend much time patting each other on the back about the movie's attention to historical detail and how much they were able to accomplish with so little money.

A 22-minute Making-Of Featurette covers much of the same ground and is basically a big love-fest. The featurette also spends entirely too much time recapping the movie's plot. Most enlightening is being able to see just how young everyone involved in the production really was. Most of the filmmakers were barely out of college.

An anamorphically enhanced theatrical trailer that makes the movie look more intriguing than it really is finishes off the disc.

No ROM supplements have been included.

Final Thoughts:
Saints and Soldiers won a bunch of film festivals and was nominated for some major Independent Spirit Awards. It also has avid supporters who declare it the best war movie ever. Personally, I didn't see anything in it to merit such enthusiasm. The picture is a well-intentioned but amateurishly acted and weakly scripted snore, and is worthy of a rental only.

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