Editor’s Notes: 10,000 Saints is currently out in limited release.
The coming-of-age genre has always made wonderful use of extravagance. Its films will make their situations appear larger than life, or vastly more important than they’d be in the real world, as an effort to emulate the way their central characters, youths, perceive life. They tend to think every bad thing is the end of the world, so in turn, good things are considered equally as grandiose. To reinforce this, glamorous or sprawling settings often serve as backdrops for several coming-of-age films’ leads, and ones like Almost Famous helped define an incredibly common choice.
10,000 Saints follows Jude (Asa Butterfield), a hardcore punk enthusiast who shuffles through life huffing glue . . .
The music scene. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The 70’s and 80’s. The streets of New York City. People falling in and out of love, rebellion, and anger, channeling those emotions into their instruments. It’s a chaotic ocean of self-discovery, an orchard growing unique and personal stories. Within all of that, there are countless new places to visit and people to follow. But this time around, the places we visit and the people we follow feel far too familiar.
10,000 Saints follows Jude (Asa Butterfield), a hardcore punk enthusiast who shuffles through life huffing glue with his friend Teddy. As a child, Jude’s father (Ethan Hawke) left, laying the groundwork for his reclusive demeanor. Several years later, Eliza, the daughter of his father’s girlfriend, comes to visit, making friends with Jude and Teddy. After her brief stay, a tragedy occurs, sending Jude into a depression he can’t bring himself out of. As if a response to this helplessness, Jude’s father appears at his window one morning, offering to take him to New York as an impromptu form of therapy. Jude complies, and once there, reconnects with Eliza, discovering that she’s pregnant. Realizing an abortion may be forced upon her, the two of them, along with an older musician (Emile Hirsch), take whatever measures necessary to hide and defend Eliza’s pregnancy.
Ethan Hawke’s character exudes life, as do those of Hailee Steinfeld and Emile Hirsch. Their performances bring an energy that engages you with ease. Sadly, the single misstep of picking the wrong lead brings everything else down.
Conceptually, that’s a pretty damn interesting premise, but 10,000 Saints makes the unfortunate mistake of centering it all around Jude. If Eliza was the main character, not only would the film’s world feel more lived-in, but everything would be incredibly compelling. Her natural evolution from denial to acceptance would be a wonderful contrast to the rapidly moving environment of 80’s punk. Instead, we watch Jude’s change from withdrawn to slightly less withdrawn play out in an uninspired, bland manner. So, even when there are attempts at making the events onscreen appear larger-than-life, like a climactic scene set in the middle of a riot, they can’t avoid coming off as tedious. Asa Butterfield, who has talent, just seems to mumble unenthusiastically, not much else. Accordingly, his role as the emotional core of the film feels pretty unearned. On the other hand, Ethan Hawke’s character exudes life, as do those of Hailee Steinfeld and Emile Hirsch. Their performances bring an energy that engages you with ease. Sadly, the single misstep of picking the wrong lead brings everything else down.
10,000 Saints is very well shot, and often shows promise, but it’s a frequently insipid and frustrating experience that’s never as significant as it tries to be.
10,000 Saints is very well shot, and often shows promise, but it's a frequently insipid and frustrating experience that's never as significant as it tries to be.