REVIEW: Delayed Thriller No Saints Deliver Action With Little Context

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If there’s anything odd about There Are No Saints as a 2022 release, it’s probably because this generic thriller was set in 2013 and has been in distribution limbo for the past nine years. Instead of a fresh new release, it feels like one of those forgotten movies that finds new life on streaming services when presented to undemanding audiences looking for just a bit of gunplay and gratuitous nudity.

It’s almost hard to believe that There Are No Saints was written by iconic filmmaker Paul Schrader, who is currently enjoying back-to-back acclaim for his films First Reformed and The Card Counter. Prior to this success, Schrader enjoyed a prolonged period of B-films, working on projects such as the infamous Bret Easton Ellis adaptation of The Canyons and the Nicolas Cage thriller Dying of the Light which was more akin to There Are No Saints.

Like Dying of the Light, There Are No Saints was completed by producers without Schrader’s involvement, although here he appears to have stepped back voluntarily. He left the screenplay to director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, who provided an anonymous action piece built around a protagonist with little personality or charisma. There Are No Saints is brimming with the hallmarks of a film that has been extensively outfitted in post-production, starting with a never-before-seen opening narration from a radio host that provides the necessary exposition.

José María Yazpik (Narcos) gives a rock-faced appearance as former underworld law enforcer Neto Niente, nicknamed “The Jesuit” for his ancient methods of torture. Thanks to the testimony that a police officer retracted, Neto was released from the Texas death row, where he was awaiting execution for an unspecified crime, possibly the murder of a police officer. Much of There Are No Saints remains undetermined so the character’s motivations and loyalties are unclear even as they are dedicated to killing each other.

Neto is kind of an anti-hero, but he doesn’t seem to regret what he’s done, even though he did visit a church soon after he was released. He tells his former boss that he is leaving his criminal life behind, but it doesn’t seem like it’s because he regrets it or changes his mind. He wants to hide and avoid those chasing him, including the local police, and he also hopes to reconnect with his son, Julio (Keidrich Sellati).

Julio idolizes Neto and draws him in angelic and Christlike poses, but there’s no redeeming arc for this cold-blooded killer. Neto antagonizes his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, Vincent (Neal McDonough), another underworld figure who smuggles weapons across the US-Mexico border. So Vincent kills Neto’s ex-wife and kidnaps Julio for reasons that seem to change depending on which character conveys it. Too late, There Are No Saints turns into a revenge thriller as Neto travels to Mexico to track down Vincent and save Julio.

He brings with him Inez (Shannyn Sossamon), an exotic dancer he meets at the strip club belonging to one of the mid-level crime bosses he must defeat in order to reach Julio. At first, he pays her to pretend to be his wife so that she looks less suspicious across the border, but she perseveres, inexplicably falling for this quiet and violent criminal. Sossamon brings welcome liveliness in There Are No Saints, playing Inez as a passionate adventurer who finally pays the price for her dedication to Neto. McDonough, being the standout in a string of villains, enjoys the role of rogue, though he doesn’t have enough screen time to make a worthy partner for Yazpik.

Ulloa features some interesting action sequences — one in a public bathroom, another in a moving SUV — but not enough for There Are No Saints to act alone. Notable stars, including Tim Roth, Tommy Flanagan, and Ron Perlman, appeared briefly in roles that may or may not have at one time been more substantial. The plot slides forward rather haphazardly, and it’s hard to care about the climactic reveal because so much context seems lost.

First Reformed and The Card Counter show what Schrader might have made of There Are No Saints, called The Jesuit. Card Counter star Oscar Isaac has even been in the lead role. Schrader’s version may not be a great film, but it would be more serious and contemplative, taking into account the consequences of Neto’s life from unbridled violence. There Are No Saintsopens with a stock Bible quote and doesn’t seem to get any more complicated from there.