Retro Film Review: The Saint (1997)

in #aaalast year


Violent collapse of former Yugoslavia made life miserable for majority of its inhabitants, and that included even celebrities. One of those was Rade Šerbedzija, one of country's best known and revered actors. In early 1990s "wrong" ethnic background and his unwillingness to sever cultural and other links with other parts of former federation have made him a "non-person" in Tudjman's Croatia, with television channel editors making sure that audience never sees any film or TV show with his face in it.
Šerbedžija, however, managed to compensate lack of domestic exposure with the start of international career. Unfortunately, he quickly realised that he couldn't have expected to be viewed as a star. For majority of world's audience (and younger Croatian viewers) his face is associated with stereotypical roles of Russian villains. One of the first such roles was in The Saint, 1997 action adventure directed by Philip Noyce.

Title protagonist of the The Saint is Simon Templar, gentleman thief who had been invented by Leslie Charteris in 1920s. Simon Templar's adventures have been the subject of numerous novels, films and TV shows (including one that was quite popular in former Yugoslavia in early 1970s). Many claim that character of Templar, suave and mysterious international operator, in many ways served as an inspiration for James Bond. Ironically, in 1990s it was the renaissance of Bond films that served as inspiration for Paramount Pictures to try to start another big movie franchise of its own.

The film starts with a prologue that shows traumatic childhood of a protagonist and later shifts to present time when we meet Simon Templar (played by Val Kilmer) as one of the world's best burglars. Templar's specialty is stealing of important data and his clientele includes world's most powerful individuals, corporations and governments. One of his latest targets is Ivan Tretiak (played by Rade Serbedzija), former Soviet Communist boss who became an oil billionaire in new, capitalist and democratic Russia. Tretiak knows how to recognise talent, so he hires Templar to help him in his latest power scheme. Young scientists Dr. Emma Russell (played by Elisabeth Shue) has discovered cold fusion - process that could bring almost indefinite power supply out of few litres of water. Tretiak needs this formula in order to present himself as a national saviour to the impoverished masses of Russia. Templar uses his seductive abilities in order to steal the formula, but along the way he discovers that he has fallen in love with beautiful, idealistic scientist. That would create serious complications in relations with Tretiak and his cohorts.
Jonathan Hensleigh's and Wesley Strick's script takes "serious" approach to the issues of cold fusion and post-Communist politics, and that represents stark contrast to the direction of Philip Noyce who had used authentic Moscow locations to create cold, dark and menacing atmosphere. Despite this dichotomy, the film works, thanks to Noyce's skill in creating suspense and staging elaborate action scenes. On the other hand, Noyce's efforts are almost ruined by terrible miscasting of Elisabeth Shue as world's scientist. Shue almost looks like she took this role as a joke and this is most evident in the scenes where she presents her ideas in the same manner stoned teenager would try to perform during school play. Unlike her, Val Kilmer took the job very seriously, obviously being intrigued by endless disguises that are part of Saint's character – that gave him opportunity not to play one but many roles, doing very good job in any of them. Yet, Šerbedžija (whose daughter Lucija appears in small role of Russian prostitute) probably had the easiest job of them all - for the role of corrupt post Communist politician with messianic complex he could simply find inspiration in people directly or indirectly responsible for his own plight.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on May 22nd 2003)


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