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'Saints and Soldiers': Not-So-Great Escape

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2004; Page WE45

When Nazis capture and try to execute a group of GIs in World War II Belgium, four manage to escape into the snowy Ardennes forest. Unfortunately, the four who get away are near-cliches in uniform. We have Nathan "Deacon" Greer (Corbin Allred), a quiet, religious sniper who carries a Bible in his pocket and is traumatized by a recent tragedy. ("Shell shock" in those days.) There are also tough-as-nails New Yorker Steven Gould (Alexander Niver), who's a medic; Gordon "Gundy" Gunderson (Peter Holden), the down-to-earth sergeant who's a teddy bear inside; and Shirlee Kendrick (Lawrence Bagby), a good ol' Louisiana boy from "N'awlins." Worst of all, cliche-wise, is Oberon Winley (Kirby Heyborne), a downed RAF pilot they meet who has valuable military information that could help the Allies and -- horror of horrors -- an unbelievably phony English accent. Suddenly, there's a new purpose to their escape: They must deliver that information into the right hands. But they have precious little weaponry, and the Germans are always close.

Filmmaker Ryan Little, who also made "Out of Step," based this story on true events, but he wasn't so strong on other points of believability. The almost-comic-book wartime vernacular and an extended motif about smoking Lucky Strikes feel like heavy-handed attempts to evoke the period. And despite all the life-threatening situations, warrior deaths and heroic feats, it's hard to get behind characters who feel like lazy archetypes.

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SAINTS AND SOLDIERS (PG-13, 90 minutes) --Contains violence, gore and obscenity. At Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.


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