Savior Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999


If a movie can raise awareness in even a few people, then it's worthwhile. People see the movie will realize more of what happened there than what they've seen on the nightly news -- who the good guys and bad guys are. We've become immune to what's really going on there.

- Dennis Quaid, "Variety" interview

Savior box art

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the 1992-1996 Bosnian War was that it was an 'intimate' war, in which the opposing sides often knew each other. Long-simmering ethnic tensions turned neighbor against neighbor, catalyzed by the nationalistic rhetoric of the Milosevic regime and the painful memories of past misdeeds. The war became an excuse to right perceived wrongs, an opportunity for the underpaid Serb employee to take out his rage on his Muslim boss and his family, or for the Muslim farmer to exact retribution against the Croat shopkeeper who never gave him a good price. These personal vendettas brought out the ugliest side of the war, contributing to the numerous atrocities that were committed in the name of ethnic unity.

I am Croat, my wife Serb. Before war, no difference. Now... stupid.

However, despite the unrelenting cruelty and violence that consumed Bosnia-Hercegovina, there were many instances throughout the war in which individuals found the courage to take a stand against the brutality around them, finding the humanity and compassion within themselves to perform personal acts of heroism. As numerous Bosnian Serb paramilitary units (the so-called 'Chetniks') cut a swath through the Bosnian countryside emptying towns and villages of their Muslim inhabitants, other Bosnian Serbs chose to help their Muslim neighbors by keeping them hidden from the roving Chetnik death squads. In besieged Sarajevo, Serb residents that stayed in the city took up arms and fought alongside their Muslim brethren against the well-armed Chetniks that surrounded the city. In Sarajevo's Kosevo hospital, the few remaining doctors worked non-stop 48-hour shifts under appalling conditions in order to treat the never-ending line of sick and wounded. As Peter Maas wrote in his tome on the Bosnian War, "Love They Neighbor", Bosnia was a 'country full of heroes'.

God is everywhere. He's inside you, he's in me, he's in Mommy.
Even in bad people?
Yeah, even in bad people.

"Savior", which arrived on video and DVD last week, is a film that takes a very personal perspective on the Bosnian War, revealing both the small heroic deeds, as well as the disturbingly intimate acts of violence. It is an unflinching look Bosnia's recent history, and like 1997's "Welcome to Sarajevo", it puts a human face on the tragedy, allowing viewers to fathom the reality and the tragic consequences of the war.

We'll get them Josh... we'll track them down.
Track'em down? Bullshit. Just walk down the street to the nearest mosque.
Look Josh, I know it's a bad time for you. We'll find these people. They'll be brought to justice.

The film starts in 1987, with Guy (Dennis Quaid of "The Parent Trap"), an American soldier, losing his wife (Nastassja Kinski) and son after a Muslim terrorist bomb explodes in a Parisian cafe. In a blind rage, Guy marches down to the nearest mosque and shoots several Muslim men in the midst of prayer. To Guy, all Muslims are guilty for the murder of his wife and child, and this hateful perspective eventually takes him to Bosnia-Hercegovina six years later, where he is a hired mercenary working for the Bosnian Serbs.

Why did you come here? Not many Western men here for Serbs, you know. Most of them think we are the bad guys. It's good to have someone like you to see what's going on here. We just fight for our land, man. That's all.

At first, Guy has no qualms gunning down civilians, even children, as he views all Muslims with disdain, especially in light of his best friend's (Stellan Skarsgard of "Ronin") recent death, killed by a Muslim girl's grenade. However, he soon begins to understand the repercussions of the hateful path that he is on when he helps a fellow Serb soldier, Goran (Sergej Trifunovic), with a prisoner exchange during a brief cease-fire. They come into custody of Vera (Natasa Ninkovic), a Serbian woman who was impregnated by a Muslim captor. Despite all that she has been through, Goran shows nothing but scorn for her plight, blaming her for 'allowing' herself to be raped.

See her? She's the Muslim daughter of a boss I worked many years for. Many years worked hard, but never was paid good. Then I saw her in a prison camp and I fucked her a million times.

As they drive Vera back to her parents' home, Goran decides to teach Vera a lesson by dragging her out of the car and throwing her onto the ground. He then begins attacking her, determined to execute both her and her 'Muslim bastard child'. Despite being hardened by years of fighting and personal loss, Guy is unwilling to allow an innocent woman and child to be killed, and so he shoots Goran and ends up delivering the baby when Vera goes into premature labor.

You should have killed yourself. You would have saved the family honor.
I tried in the prison camp. They stopped me.
Take it... no one is stopping you... do it.
I can't... I have a baby, Papa.
Then I am going to kill you both.

However, Vera believes very much in the hateful rhetoric spouted by Goran-- so much, that she refuses to feed or take care of her newborn child, leaving Guy to look after the both of them. Unfortunately, Vera ends up being rejected by her own father, a stern man who feels that she has betrayed the family honor and would be better off killing herself. It is here that the film shifts into road-movie mode, with Guy driving across the Bosnian countryside in the hope of finding Vera and her child a new home-- a journey that will help Guy rediscover the humanity and compassion that have been long-buried by deep-seated hatred.

Stop following me.
Where are you going?
I'm going home. Stop following me.
I want to help you.
Why do you need to help me?
Need?
Yes... I can see you need that. I am from here. Somehow I can see that they are right when they say I was not a good Serb woman.
That's not true... listen to me. What happened to you... it wasn't your fault.
It was. I deserve no better.
Dennis Quaid

Scribe Robert Orr, who came up with the screenplay while working in Bosnia-Hercegovina as a photographer's assistant, was inspired by the real-life exploits of an ex-Foreign legion sniper. In the hands of long-time Serbian director Peter Antonijevic, "Savior" is an uncompromising and inspiring film that makes its point without becoming overly melodramatic or heavy-handed. At the heart of the story is a simple concept, the emotional reawakening of its protagonist, and it is executed in an earnest yet effective manner. The cathartic pilgrimage that both Guy and Vera undertake is a difficult one, and the script never loses sight of this. Instead of spinning the story into a less-than-satisfying melodramatic or romantic direction, the screenplay stays the course, providing an honest, yet solemn, resolution.

The film's simple-yet-powerful approach is further supported with strong performances given by Quaid and Ninkovic, performances that arguably carry the film. Both actors handle their characters' transformational arcs with a great deal of skill and believability, as they do the uneasy relationship between their two characters. Of particular note, there are several scenes in which Quaid manages to convey the emotional turmoil of his character with only a mere facial expression that speaks volumes. It is hard to imagine another actor in Quaid's place that would be able to bring such austerity and dignity to the role.

No! Wait! It's not her fault!
Wait...let him speak.
Don't... I shot Goran.
Why?
He was going to kill her and the baby... like dogs.

Overall, "Savior" is an inspiring film of redemption in a most unlikely part of the world. While it shows us that mankind is capable of great evil, it also shows us the potential within all of us to resist it. On the one hand, it is certainly disturbing, as several scenes provide a brutally honest and personal perspective of the never-ending cycle of violence in the Balkans. However, "Savior" also provides a glimmer of hope in its protagonist Guy, a man who manages to overcome his own antipathy and apathy with a simple act of kindness.

Images courtesy of Initial Entertainment Group. All rights reserved.


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