Past the Popcorn: Waterland Home Video Feature

Saints and Soldiers reviewed by Greg Wright

So… I’m not a fan of Saving Private Ryan. One of its core messages was about the same as Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers: “Show your enemies no mercy, for you will be shown none.” And Spielberg really drives that mega-budget message home, you may recall, by having that dirty ex-prisoner kraut blast Tom Hanks to kingdom come in the final act… and by making sure the Good Guys are surrounded by nubile babes with perky breasts, even if those babes are the Good Guys’ daughters.

Okay. That’s just me.

Have you heard about the LDS film Saints and Soldiers? I stumbled across this 2003 flick on Netflix, and it is just about as polar opposite a war film as you can get from Ryan and Spielberg. It’s micro-budget, the cast is filled with whoozits… and it has a decidedly different take on the whole mercy thing. But it tells a similar story, of a small unit of soldiers carrying out a dangerous Allied mission behind German lines during World War II in the wake of a POW massacre.

saints-and-soldiers-insetIn his feature film debut, Canadian native Ryan Little pulls a cinematic rabbit out of his hat, taking advantage of every ounce of “re-enactor” muscle that Utah could muster, and tells a compelling story in fine, professional fashion. The film this most reminded my of is Rachid Bouchareb’s Oscar-nominated Days of Glory. It’s no surprise that this film won scads of awards on the festival circuit.

What’s especially nice is that Little’s Latter Day Saints background lends this production a moral dimension (amidst all the squibs and flashpots) that Spielberg has never come close to mustering. The central character of “Deacon” is highly convincing, given the LDS mission-field experiences of the director and several cast/crew members.

At the crux of the plot is that same dilemma as in Ryan: Do you show mercy to your enemies? Little’s film doesn’t treat that question in a perfunctory manner, on either end of the spectrum… though, naturally, it just isn’t possible to read this as a “shoot the bastards” tract.

If Little represents the future of LDS filmmaking (two sequels to this film have already been shot), I’m all for it. (And just to be clear, I’m not LDS!) But this is real cinema with a clear spiritual dimension… and I’m all in favor of that.

I imagine that Saints and Soldiers is still available on Netflix. I’ve jumped to Amazon Instant, though, and you can find it there… free, for Prime members.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!


2 Responses to “Past the Popcorn: Waterland Home Video Feature”
  1. Caparzo says:

    Mr. Wright,

    Your take on Saving Private Ryan is by far the least accurate and most distorted views of this movie that I have ever read. There are no “babes” at the end, only an old man going to pay respect to another man (played by Hanks) who sacrificed his life to make sure that Ryan made it home.

    The crux of “Ryan” was not to ask the morale question of “do we show our enemies mercy,” but rather to illustrate brotherhood and what a man would do to save his friends. The crux of “Ryan” simply follows John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

    I’m sure that your LDS movie is great and I will be looking for it on Netflix; but I encourage you to see the true meaning and message of Saving Private Ryan.

    • Greg Wright says:

      Hey there, and thanks for the reply. I freely admit I am wrong on a great many things, and given that I am squarely in the minority on Ryan, it’s likely that my take on the film is one of them. (And I do have a bias against Spielberg’s heavy-handedness as a director.) There are, however, several young women at the beginning AND at the end of the film. They’re the vet’s daughter and granddaughters, presumably, in the cemetery-visit framing device. They’re all quite attractive, naturally, and (shall we say) flatteringly dressed — inappropriately so, I thought, in a couple of cases. (And it’s something one might easily miss on a TV, while quite in-your-face on a giant movie screen.)

      I would agree with you on the crux of Ryan completely had not Spielberg insisted on including not only the second-act moral dilemma of “do we kill the kraut or let him go free?” but the third act death of Hanks’ character at the hands of said German solider. So it seems obvious to me that Spielberg was going well beyond “laying down lives for friends” and deliberately pondering “what’s the implication of mercy in the context of battle?” — an excellent question, but one I though Spielberg badly fumbled.

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!