There Are No Saints, 2022.
Directed by Alfonso Pineda Ulloa.
Starring José María Yazpik, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Perlman, Karla Souza, Shannyn Sossamon, Tim Roth, Paz Vega, Neal McDonough, Brian Cox, and Keidrich Sellati.
A man nicknamed “the Jesuit,” is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. When his wife is murdered, and his son kidnapped and taken to Mexico, he devises an elaborate and dangerous plan to rescue his son and avenge the murder.
What if Paul Schrader did Taken? That sums up There Are No Saints, a generic actioner that’s only silver lining is sitting back and seeing how dark he will take the story. There’s also nothing wrong with getting twisted and grimy; the world is a fucked up, and Schrader – on writing duties here – typically succeeds in plunging into those morally bankrupt depths. However, this is overly gratuitous shock value standing in for a script that refuses to interrogate its characters, including its lead, which is a significant misstep considering he may or may not be a murderer (he’s being released from death row on account of an officer admitting to tampering with evidence, but flashbacks suggest he is, well, no saint).
Neto (José María Yazpik, a solid, intimidating physical performance lacking in the line delivery department) is torn. It’s been five years since he has seen his son Julio (Keidrich Sellati), but everyone in the Texas town has an ax to grind. The police welcome him home with violent ambushes, there’s a cartel full of Mexican stereotypes that is beyond unacceptable, his wife’s (Paz Vega) new boyfriend (Neal McDonough) is a career criminal, and his lawyer (Tim Roth) would prefer to be no longer endangered. At first, There Are No Saints feels like it’s going to be yet another moody Paul Schrader-scribed character study (it should be mentioned that Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, who mostly has a history in television, directs), but it quickly devolves into a kidnapped son/hunt down anyone with a lead movie.
Worse, it’s the dumb kind, where our protagonist is dead to rights several times, only for the henchmen to be surprised by a backhand knocking the gun out of their hands. The action is primarily choppy and only ever involving due to how primal and sadistic it can get. There are quite a few torture sequences that are admittedly intense and clever in their eye-wincing punishment, but there’s never a sense that this story is going anywhere interesting. Paul Schrader has stated that the goal is exploitation cinema, but what’s here is so overly serious without a hint of fun. Again, it’s boundary-pushing for the sake of it. And trust me, this movie will make people squeamish and have tons turning it off during the final 20 minutes. The people who make it through to the ending will be distraught, and I say that as someone who is constantly pounding the drum for bleak endings. This, though? It serves no purpose and is unequivocally unnecessarily cruel.
There are also many random supporting characters that let you know they are bad guys by repeatedly spouting racist remarks. That’s also fine given the hard edge the movie is going for, but one scene has a character making three different racist comments in 30 seconds. It almost comes across as comical, not laughing at the racist jokes, obviously, but the ineptitude of the script characterizing its villains. It doesn’t matter if they are white or Mexican (although anytime they are Mexican, you bet your ass they are dressed and speaking like walking stereotypes).
Remember, There Are No Saints is mainly from the mind of Paul Schrader, so it’s no surprise that it’s also horny as hell. Not only do we visit strip clubs an estimated three times (which I have no gripes with), one of the dancers (Shannyn Sossamon) accompanies Neto exchanging information for cash, alongside access across the border. This turns into a romantic subplot that is impossible to buy into. It also just gives Alfonso Pineda Ulloa another woman character to bloody up.
There are moments when some of the action clicks (a fight inside a car), but this is an unpleasant film that’s far too evil to be taken as entertaining schlock, abandons examining its protagonist, and it is derivative. There Are No Saints entered production almost ten years ago and has sat on the shelf for roughly eight years. And you know what, there are no saints because the movie didn’t sit on the shelf forever. It’s a stain on Paul Schrader’s mostly impressive recent work. At least Neto has a spiffy jacket? I’m reaching for positives here. Apparently, saints and positives are in short supply.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com