“Least Among Saints”: A War Veteran Rejects Therapy

Least Among Saints. Alas, a new indie movie about a worthy subject that’s appreciated by some critics, panned by so many others.

The plot of Least Among Saints—written by, directed by, and starring Martin Papazian—as found on its website:

Returning home to a broken marriage and an uncertain future, combat veteran Anthony Hayward (Papazian) believes there is no hope for himself. Yet when a troubled ten year-old neighbor, Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu), calls out for help, Anthony cannot turn away. To the dismay of the boy’s social worker (Laura San Giacomo), Anthony sets out on a fool’s quest to help this heartbroken and hard-to-reach child find his long-lost father. In the midst of this new mission – the first that seems to matter since his return – Anthony begins to come to grips with both the costs of war and the universal power of human connection.

Joseph SmigelskiThe Huffington Post, introduces Anthony’s basic plight and perspective:

…(L)ife sometimes comes down hard and we find ourselves plummeting toward the bottom of a psychological and philosophical abyss worthy of Dante, so wracked with guilt, disappointment, and the pain of being abandoned by all we hold dear, that we think the churning in our guts will never end, that the only way out is death. But then, if we’re lucky, circumstances present themselves that give us the opportunity, if we’re careful and we don’t screw up, to crawl out of that hellish pit one painful step at a time.

Anthony has PTSD. He repeatedly drinks himself into legal trouble. He has a restraining order against him by his ex-wife. He’s at high risk for self-harm. Jeanette Catsoulis, New York Times: “Bedeviled by good intentions shrouded in terrible instincts, Anthony rejects the military’s offer of therapy in favor of attempting suicide in his garage.”

Does the trailer pull you in?

Smigelski warns that the story can seem unrealistic, which is echoed by other critics as well. But, he adds:

…(D)on’t be dismayed…The actions of police detective George (Charles S. Dutton), social worker Jolene (Laura San Giacomo), and a certain nurse at the local hospital make sense in the context of the story, given the tight local community that is established early on.

…(T)he story has a subtle, almost naive, fable-like quality that makes us hope that, at least sometimes, honorable people with little power can, when it is most important, overcome obstacles put in their way by well-meaning but jaded bureaucrats. The movie brings more than one tear to the appreciative eye.

One critic who can’t abide the apparent script problems, however, is Chuck BowenSlant: “As a portrait of a self-pitying drunk’s wet dream of inexplicable atonement, Least Among Saints is fairly effective, but as a story meant to take place on some rational version of planet Earth, it’s utterly hopeless.”

Likewise, Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: “It all culminates in a predictable if less than credible feel-good conclusion that would go down easier if it wasn’t obvious that the main character has behaved in a manner that should have earned him serious jail time.”

On a more positive note, Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times, calls Saints “…a finely etched portrait of lost souls Wade and Anthony as they co-navigate a new normal and lay out a tentative map for the future. An ill-fated road trip to find Wade’s estranged father and Anthony’s audacious effort to help the boy avenge a school bully are just two of the film’s many memorable, emotionally rich sequences.”

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