Strong performances are lost in ‘Ten Thousand Saints,’ a scattered coming-of-age story about a boy in the 1980s.
In Ten Thousand Saints, a young boy, Jude (Asa Butterfield) is forced to grow up quickly after his father, Les (Ethan Hawke), casually tells him that not only did he cheat on his mother, but that Jude was adopted, all in Les’ greenhouse which he uses to grow marijuana. Fast forward several years to the late 1980s in Vermont and Jude is a teenager whose life revolves around getting high in any way possible (paint thinner included), hardcore music, and his best friend, Teddy (Avan Jogia).
On New Year’s Eve, Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), teenage daughter of Les’ current girlfriend (Emily Mortimer), is sent to Vermont as a peace offering from Les for Jude, who immediately dismisses her after learning about her close relationship with Les. Jude and Teddy pass out that night in the snow after getting high, but only Jude wakes up in the morning. Following Teddy’s funeral, Les returns to Vermont and rescues Jude, bringing him back to his home in the East Village in New York City. After visiting Johnnie (Emile Hirsch), Teddy’s half brother and lead singer of a straight edge band, Eliza discovers she is pregnant with Teddy’s baby. Johnnie immediately wants to commit to Eliza to honor his brother’s life and eventually marries her, creating a tepid and undeveloped love triangle between Eliza, Johnnie, and Jude.
Ethan Hawke is a clear standout as Les, ensnaring and hooking the audience from the beginning even though on paper he is the least likable character in the film. He delivers an incredibly captivating performance that’s effortlessly funny in one moment and heart-breakingly vulnerable in the next. Emily Mortimer is wonderful as Eliza’s mother, Di, and breathes humanity and life into a character who otherwise might have been shallow and forgettable. Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld give solid performances, Steinfield outshining Butterfield, but both fall victim to the script’s lack of emotional depth.
Unfortunately, Ten Thousand Saints’ nostalgic look at the 1980s is underdeveloped. The many plot points aren’t clearly threaded together by an active conflict, preventing the film from fully delving into the various themes that it introduces, including adolescent romance, gentrification, drugs and sobriety in music. This places exposition above character development, making it difficult for the audience to invest and believe in the film’s characters and for the characters to grow and flourish on a deeper level.
The film opens August 14. Check out the trailer here: