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It's been nine years since "Saints and Soldiers" hit the festival circuit, a bold and thrilling World War II drama that proved that a bunch of Utah filmmakers could get a big bang for very few bucks.

Now, director Ryan Little returns to the war, and to Utah filming locations, for "Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed," a thoughtful drama about the mental and spiritual toll of war.

The movie isn't a sequel in the traditional sense, in that the characters from this movie aren't related to those in the original. But the themes of war and faith, and the presence of actor Corbin Allred, carry forward from the 2003 film.

Allred, Jasen Wade and David Nibley play three Airborne soldiers — Rossi, Curtis and Jones — in a unit of paratroopers that has just dropped into occupied France, not long after D-Day. They are separated from their unit and soon find each other as they try to make their way back to their rendezvous point. Along the way, they encounter a pretty French Resistance fighter, Emilie (Virginie Fourtina Anderson), and help her spring some other Resistance members caught by the Germans.

Through episodes of combat and tension, we also flash back to the soldiers' backstories. Rossi thinks back to an incident in which his best buddy (Trenton James) is killed in action, Curtis recalls his girl (Nichelle Aiden) back home, while Jones remembers the debates he had with his preacher father (Paul Nibley) about enlisting in the Airborne instead of joining the chaplain corps.

And, in one of the movie's riskier and more interesting moves, much focus is given on a German officer, Capt. Neumann (played by Lincoln Hoppe, one of the film's screenwriters), a loyal officer who begins soul-searching because of the bad things he has done in the name of the Fatherland.

As he did with the first "Saints and Soldiers," Little squeezes every ounce of production value out of the tiny "Airborne Creed" budget. Little (who is his own cinematographer) employs tight editing, strategically placed computer effects and a group of World War II re-enactors to make the movie look big and epic.

The best thing about Little's technical skill is that it keeps the production values from distracting from the story, which is an engaging drama about the ways war grinds down the men (and back then it was only men) who fight it — on both sides. "Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed" is a thinking person's war movie, and a feeling person's one as well.

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'Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed'

This engaging made-in-Utah movie explores World War II and the spiritual cost paid by those who fought it.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Friday, Aug. 17.

Rating • PG-13 for war violence.

Running time • 95 minutes.

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