Alfonso Pineda Ulloa’s action-thriller There Are No Saints should’ve worked on multiple levels. It’s written by the great Paul Schrader, the man behind such classics as Taxi Driver and the recent First Reformed. It boasts a formidable cast of cinema stalwarts. Alas, instead of a scathing critique of racial injustice, a revamping of the “man seeks revenge after his family is murdered/kidnapped” trope, the director delivers gratuitously violent, vulgar, clichéd, jaw-droppingly sexist, and racist cinematic bile.
The plot is barely worth noting, as it’s as by-the-numbers as it gets. Released from a prison in South Texas, our heavily-tattooed hero, known as “the Jesuit” (José María Yazpik), goes after the goons – led by a super-evil Vincent (Neal McDonough) – who murdered his wife (Paz Vega) and kidnapped his son (Keidrich Sellati). With the cops after him, the Jesuit is running out of time to track and take down those scumbags. Luckily, he receives help from a sexy bartender (Shannyn Sossamon), who can lead him to Vincent. The story then somehow ends up in the Mexican jungle and concludes on the dourest of notes.
What does Ulloa have against the opposite sex? The central protagonist is frequently violent towards women; a multitude of highly graphic sequences portray women as helpless, sex-and-money-craving victims; they’re referred to as “gold-digging w****s,” beaten, shot, and tortured, their hands impaled by sharp knives. There Are No Saints seems to regard females as either strippers or scantily-clad, easily-bought, incessantly-blabbering pests. I’m far from being a proponent of political correctness, but witnessing such unabashed insensitivity is nauseating.
“…heavily-tattooed hero…goes after the goons…who murdered his wife.”
Ulloa never tries to justify his disregard for good taste. Even the Jesuit is frequently referred to as a “spic.” This is racism for the sake of racism. We all know that it still exists, but there’s no point being made here. The same applies to all the over-the-top violence. I normally dig this stuff – the gorier, the better – but it must either be truly unnerving, played for laughs, or make some sort of a point. In Ulloa’s film, it just sits there. Shins get blown off, faces smashed, fingernails yanked, bats break bones, boiling water sears off skin, and a child is tortured. You’ll wince for all the wrong reasons.
The shaky cam used throughout There Are No Saints does the relatively well-orchestrated choreography a disservice. A bathroom brawl, after which our hero casually flirts with the bartender, could have been infinitely more effective if wiser camera placement and editing choices were made. The same applies to a fight inside a moving vehicle later on in the film. It’s all sound and fury, signifying zilch. No one learns s**t from anything. Characters don’t develop or grow; there are, indeed, no saints nor any redeeming qualities.
I’m shocked Schrader wrote this, but then I recollect some of the duds on his mostly-impeccable resume (see, or rather don’t, The Canyons). Still, there’s no excuse for the vacuum of morals on display. A moral vacuum can be pivotal to great cinema, but in a monotonous rehash like this, some humanity is essential. The lackluster dialogue doesn’t help. “Unless you want to eat a baseball, I suggest you tell me where my money is right now,” a character snarls.
I wish I could say that if you were to take out all the offensive s**t, Ulloa’s film would be silly, bloody fun. Considering the cast and writer, it really should be. However, the result is truly egregious. I’d rather eat a baseball than have to sit through There Are No Saints ever again.
"…relatively well-orchestrated choreography..."
Hello i watch the movie and i actually love it, hope to see a sequel or a continue of the movie