The Saint (1997, Phillip Noyce)

The Saint is a delightful mess of a film. Director Noyce toggles between doing a Bond knock-off while a romantic adventure picture. Val Kilmer’s international, high-tech cat burglar falls for one of his marks, Elisabeth Shue’s genius scientist. Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick’s script, even when it puts Shue in distress, never actually treats her like a damsel. She’s in her own movie, one where she’s this genius scientist and she falls for the international, high-tech cat burglar who rips off her science thing.

It’s not just any science thing, The Saint is from the late nineties, so it’s cold fusion. So Shue gets to play this oddball scientist, full of eccentric behavior, only somewhat contained. Shue’s so excited by her adventure in the film–she’s so full of energy during the extended chase sequence in the second act, it’s almost like Kilmer has to hold her back. He gets to do makeup and voices, but he doesn’t have the thrill for it. She does. He’s got the thrill for her. It’s just lovely. I mean, it’s the thing Noyce never lets get screwed up–the romance. And the comedy, though the comedy is an afterthought for too much of the film. It probably would’ve been better to embrace it a lot earlier but there’s all the Bond knocking off to do.

And it’s fine international chase and action intrigue. It’s a fine Bond knock-off. Terry Rawlings’s editing could be better, but Phil Meheux’s photography is always solid, sometimes something more. The film’s enamored with Shue. Kilmer can easily handle this international thief thing. It’s not a tough part. The tough stuff is the accents and stage makeup and he excels at it. But the weight of the film’s conceit falls on Shue. She has to be a genius, she has to be a practical slapstick romantic interest, she has to be the damsel in distress. And her performance embraces the first two and rejects the third. Noyce and Kilmer just have to catch up with her. It’s gleeful.

Graeme Revell’s music is sometimes really good, sometimes really not. Again, he never screws it up for the romance.

Awesome supporting turns from villains Rade Serbedzija and Valeriy Nikolaev. Serbedzija and Kilmer only get a couple scenes together but they’re fantastic ones. They both want to chew on the scenery but they’re not willing to step on the other’s toes. And Nikolaev, as Serbedzija’s son and chief thug, doesn’t get many lines, he just gets to be mean. He’s excellent at it.

I’ve been putting off watching The Saint again for at least a decade. I can’t get that time loving it back. It’s a really special film. It’s not a success because it’s way too confused as a production, but Noyce sees what Shue and Kilmer are doing and he throws in with them, concept be damned.

The Saint’s lovely. And Shue is amazing. Kilmer’s got some really outstanding moments and he’s real strong doing this intentionally ill-defined lead, but Shue is better. It’s a truly singular performance.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Hensleigh and a character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by David Brown, Robert Evans, William J. MacDonald and Mace Neufeld; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Simon Templar), Elisabeth Shue (Dr. Emma Russell), Rade Serbedzija (Ivan Tretiak), Valeriy Nikolaev (Ilya Tretiak), Michael Byrne (Vereshagi), Henry Goodman (Dr. Lev Botvin), Evgeniy Lazarev (President Karpov), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Teal), Charlotte Cornwell (Inspector Rabineau), Lev Prygunov (General Sklarov) and Irina Apeksimova (Frankie).


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