When you set about making a great World War II movie you’ve got some big military boots to fill. Depictions of the war can range anywhere from uplifting and action-packed to downright horrific. Saints and Soldiers: The Void seems to aim for the former but doesn’t quite hit the mark. When describing it, the word “almost” tends to come to mind. It’s almost inspiring, the actors are almost good and the story is almost interesting.
The Void starts with a montage of news footage that sets the scene, telling us the war is over and Hitler is dead. Which leads to the film’s biggest problem. If you’re making a WW2 movie and the war is over, then you take away a lot of the story’s tension. If there isn’t a war then why should we be interested?
In a setting like this a film needs to work hard to raise the stakes and increase the sense of jeopardy. What it needs is an antagonist but The Void seems to forget it should have one. There’s a Nazi tank commander (Christoph Malzl) who could fill that role nicely. Except he’s barely present. One flashback sets him up as a typical villain, the next time we see him it’s at a distance while he’s stood on a tank. The final confrontation against him sees him killed off. It should have a sense of victory but in reality it barely registers.
A film’s villain doesn’t always have to be a person however. The Void aims to make a point of the racism that affected African American soldiers during the war. Hatred, prejudice and even the hardships of war can work against the heroes. Except, like the Nazi commander, the subject of race doesn’t quite work against the hero enough for it to feel like a victory when it’s not there anymore. With the exception of Cpl Simms, most of the people Sgt Owens comes across are pretty friendly.
K. Danor Gerald plays the role of sympathetic Sgt Owens. He’s a real talent that stands out amongst what is a cast of mostly flat performers. He’s the only one who manages to pull off a scene with any sort of emotional weight and he has a charm that could carry him to bigger and better things.
The rest of the cast tend to sit in the middle ground where people can act but don’t quite offer much that’s unique or impactful. Which is a shame because the dialogue is there but no one seems to be able to pull it off. And at least one of the actors feels as if he got the job because he was ridiculously good looking. Trendy haircuts and pearly white teeth can be a bit distracting in a war setting.
The action scenes are pretty entertaining and the film does a great job with what is presumably a fairly small budget. The tank destroyer goes up against three German tanks in a tight spot. After the initial fight it turns into a slow game of wits as each tries to get in the best position to defend or shoot. The pacing is ideal, offering just enough breathing space for character development but not so slow that things get dull.
There are a couple of scenes that deserve honourable mentions. Such as the encounter with a German family and their broken down car. It doesn’t really lead anywhere but it’s an interesting exchange. The war is over and so there’s that much less to worry about and yet tensions would obviously remain high between Germans and Americans. The treatment of Sgt Owens starts out fairly cold but ends on a positive note.
The other is a flashback into Sgt Owens’ past, however to reveal too much would give away some major plot points. What can be said about it however is that it highlights racism in the military by revealing that neglect suffered by African Americans. The black soldiers request more basics like thick socks to deal with the cold, while the white men in charge continue to say “no” at any opportunity. It’s a simple exchange that the film really needed more of.
Saints and Soldiers: The Void is a film that almost succeeds. It’s got a good lead actor, some great dialogue and interesting flashbacks but bland performances and the lack of any sense of danger stops it from being anything more than just okay.