Set during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Savior is at times an unpleasantly brutal film. Following the death of his wife and child in a Muslim terrorist bombing in Paris, Joshua Rose (Dennis Quaid) goes on an Islamophobic rampage, gunning down worshippers in a mosque. Fleeing to the French foreign legion, he eventually ends up in Bosnia fighting for the Serbs, where he further indulges his murderous bigotry with robotic impassivity. These early scenes are short and stereotypical - resembling a mid-film montage sequence rather than a conventional cinematic opening - so that the film's first quarter seems facile and dramatically under-developed. The acting, moreover, is woeful. Rather than the traumatised automaton he is supposed to be, Quaid looks like a man desperately trying to act like a traumatised automaton.
Things become more interesting when Rose, following a Serb-Muslim prisoner exchange, is obliged to take care of a Serb woman, Vera (Nataša Ninković), who has been raped and disowned by her family. When Vera's child is born, Rose takes on new responsibilities and undergoes the near-statutory moral reawakening. Hackneyed as the narrative may be, there are some touching moments. When Rose and Vera are offered refuge for a night by some kindly civilians, we are given an affecting insight into how ordinary people retain their dignity and generosity in the midst of horror.
Also noteworthy is the film's take on the balance of atrocities during the war. While some have accused the film - directed by a Serb - of pro-Serb bias, the film contains and clearly condemns scenes of Serb violence (in one of the film's ghastliest moments, Rose's degenerate comrade Goran cuts off the finger of an elderly Muslim lady in order to take her ring); but it also unflinchingly depicts Croat/Muslim atrocities - even if the latter do rather outnumber the former.
This is refreshing considering how closely Hollywood (and many other) films about the war have conformed to the anti-Serb script of the US and British news media. Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) and Richard Shepard's The Hunting Party (2007) are shameless pieces of anti-Serb propaganda in which Serbs are cast as screaming psychopaths and Muslim atrocities go unmentioned. Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land (2001), for all its cultural cachet, also propounds a one-sided view of the war, in its presentation of a neurotic and duplicitous Serb and a 'cool' and liberal, Westernized Muslim soldier. Even Peter Kosminsky's 1999 television film Warriors, which has been widely hailed for its realism and anti-war ethos, takes up the 'evil Serb' paradigm and does not depict Muslim atrocities.
Yet none of these films - including Savior - displays much understanding of the matrix of macro-political forces that contributed to the destruction of the former Yugoslavia. While it is difficult to forget the images of inter-ethnic cruelty in films like Savior, we should also remember how the world's great powers - notably the US, Germany, Britain and France - descended on Yugoslavia like wolves in the 1990s, tearing the country apart. That is a story too little told.