You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again, when a film sits on a shelf for several years it’s not a good sign. When it features a cast full of familiar names it’s even worse. There Are No Saints went into production in 2012 and sat on the shelf since shooting finished in 2013. And that’s with a recognizable cast plus a script written by Paul Schrader whose credits include, to name just a few, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Rolling Thunder, Hardcore, Cat People and The Last Temptation of Christ. But, as with most things, there are exceptions.
There Are No Saints opens with a brief and troubling flashback. Then the voice of a right-wing radio pundit (Jeff McNeal, Our Brand Is Crisis, Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey!) tells us that Neto Niente (José María Yazpik, Narcos: Mexico, The Burning Plain) is being released from prison after a Texas State Trooper confessed to planting the evidence that convicted him. He also tells us that it shouldn’t matter since Neto is a really bad person.
But Neto wants to leave his past as a cartel enforcer behind and reconnect with his ex-wife Nadia (Paz Vega, Rambo: Last Blood, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), and young son, Julio (Paz Vega, The Americans, Rockaway). That’s despite the advice of his lawyer Carl Abrahams (Tim Roth, Hardcore Henry, The Con is On) to get the hell out of town before his past catches up to him in a fatal way.
And death does come, but to Nadia, whose new boyfriend Vincent (Neal McDonough, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, Monsters of Man) finds out about their reconciliation. He kills her, kidnaps Julio and heads to Mexico forcing Neto to take up his old ways once again.
One can see a basic similarity to Schrader’s blood-soaked B movie Rolling Thunder in the film’s setup, a similarity that will be strengthened by Neto’s acquiring the assistance of Inez (Shannyn Sossamon, Sinister 2, Wayward Pines) and a final showdown south of the border.
What may have been changed in the script between his attempt to film it as The Jesuit and Alfonso Pineda Ulloa (Demon Inside, Tales of Mexico) being brought in to direct it as There Are No Saints I don’t know beyond the fact they wanted the ending rewritten for budget reasons. Nor can I say what may have changed from the rough cut Schrader enthusiastically endorsed in 2014 and the final version. But many scenes feel off, as though they were subject to heavy editing.
Granted even The Yakuza and Rolling Thunder had some subtext to go with the violence. I have a feeling that may have been what was hacked out of the scenes I mentioned earlier. As it stands There Are No Saints runs a hundred and five minutes and in a film like this if you’re cutting for length dialogue is the first thing to go. The result, like much of the film’s violence, is messy but quite effective as Neto leaves a trail of bodies behind him as he searches for his son. Schrader meant There Are No Saints to be a return to his more exploitation-oriented roots, and that’s what Ulloa serves up.
With a supporting cast that includes Brian Cox (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Tommy Flanagan (The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, Wu Assassins) and Ron Perlman (The Last Victim, This Game’s Called Murder) as the figure behind it all there’s plenty of villains for Neto to work his way through. And he does in brutally efficient style before his past finally does come back to haunt him in There Are No Saints’ final confrontation.
While it’s certainly not a lost classic, There Are No Saints certainly shouldn’t have been left on a shelf all these years either. It’s a perfectly serviceable and entertaining slice of mayhem that could have been released to DVD or streaming at any point in the last ten years. It’s certainly better than a lot of what we have gotten in that time.
There Are No Saints is currently available on VOD and Digital platforms via Saban Films. Paramount Home Entertainment will release it on DVD on July 19th. If that’s not quite what you were looking for, FilmTagger has some other suggestions.