A time honored motif of the Revenge genre is to show how a wronged man, pushed to the edge, makes things right. And they do it all the while drenching their own hands in a lot of blood. Sprinkle in a large dose of dark Biblical irony and you have got There Are No Saints, the new film from Director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa (Demon Inside 2013, Tales of Mexico 2016) released on Friday, May 27, 2022 via Paramount Pictures and Saban Films in select theaters and VOD. Penned by the venerably cranky Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver 1976, First Reformed 2017), this John Wick-style Thriller treads some really nasty and morally ambiguous territory.
Firstly, points for the great title. There Are No Saints is a punchy grabber in this critic’s estimation, suggesting a lot and saying very little. The story is likewise very simple. Neto Niente (José María Yazpik – Narcos: Mexico series, Polvo 2019) is a bounty hunter known as “the Jesuit.” He’s released from prison after a cop admits he faked evidence to get him behind bars. Once word gets out, Neto finds himself the target of everyone from racist cops to gang bangers to drug cartels. When he sticks around too long to see his son, all hell breaks loose when the boy is kidnapped.
What is good about There Are No Saints is that it works on the strength of the story alone. Schrader is an old pro at this. He excels at crafting morally complex characters that struggle with worlds they don’t quite into but at the same time would not be who they are outside of them. Yazpik brings a mix of quiet, stoic menace to Neto. It’s effective stuff, especially as Neto has a bloody past that he’s itching to leave behind, but just can’t. There Are No Saints is infused with religious imagery and Neto embodies the contradiction of being a violent man in a violent world silently struggling to maintain his faith (if he even does).
It is unfortunate then that such rich thematic tension is handled a little too matter-of-factly. This is not to say that Ulloa’s direction is sufficient, but you might leave this film wondering what this would have looked like if Schrader himself directed it. There is a sense Ulloa is more interested in the John Wick-side to this story than exploring the contradictions and tensions within Neto.
That does not mean it fails. Not by any means. It just feels a little safe, ironically, for the darkly violent and at times disturbing subject matter. That said, There Are No Saints never loses steam. It has a bunch of great characters to keep the story popping. Shannyn Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale 2001, Sleepy Hollow series) stands out as Inez, a sassy stripper with a heart of gold. The always welcome Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction 1994, Twin Peaks: The Return 2017) is great as Neto’s sarcastic counsellor and Ron Perlman (Hellboy 2004, Sons of Anarchy series) stops by as a delightfully sick mirror to Neto.
It all builds to a surprisingly ballsy ending that 100% works thematically and will be the talk of the film. Give Schrader credit for consistently interrogating his own Catholic faith as contrasted with and contributing to a violent and changing world. Also give credit to Ulloa for going with it. The ending cleaves There Are No Saints from the gaggle of John Wick wannabes out there.
All told, Schrader’s story has a philosophical and moral core Ulloa does not quite nail at exploring. But he has still made a film that works and stands as a solid action thriller willing to take some risks. That is why Cryptic Rock gives There Are No Saints 3.5 out of 5 stars.