You know, some films just can’t catch a break, especially ones that tend to represent what I’d call typical American values. These pictures generally focus on average Americans rising up to a particularly personal challenge within their life or their community, and, despite the odds clearly being stacked against them, they do what’s right (while stumbling plenty along the way) in order to bring out their inherent humanity. Furthermore, motion pictures that focus on former American soldiers doing this suffer the fool’s wrath of critics, and that’s mostly because the entertainment elite just can’t sit still for a former soldier actually doing something noble in his or her life.
It’s sad that the Liberal intelligentsia can’t learn to put aside their politics long enough to enjoy a film like LEAST AMONG SAINTS. Instead, they dismiss it as a ‘Lifetime Movie of the Week’ with motion picture sensibilities and scripted emotions. To the contrary, I found most of it a gentle and poignant exploration of people surviving turbulence (some of their own making) by, simply, finding a way to do what’s right. While it may include elements of predictability, it’s hardly a carbon copy knock-off of some tepid telefilm.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Anthony Hayward (played with nice-guy appeal by Martin Papazian, who also wrote and directed) accepts his discharge from the U.S. military mostly because he’s personally haunted by a judgment call that resulted in tragedy. Back in the States, he’s welcomed back home to a broken marriage, no gainful employment, and a restraining order to keep him away from his ex-wife Jenny (the lovely Audrey Marie Anderson). One evening after being dragged home and roughed up by police who caught him disturbing the peace, Hayward intercedes a violent confrontation between his neighbor lady (A.J. Cook) and her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend, and this puts him in the spotlight of the woman’s young son, Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu). When she turns up dead from an overdose, Anthony and Wade band as unlikely allies to fill the void in each other’s life.
Based on a synopsis alone, it’s easy to understand how someone might dismiss LEAST AMONG SAINTS as just another formulaic tear-jerker built to provide said entertainment to the masses; but that’s a disservice to the Papazian’s script. It’s a work rich in c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r, something that’s seriously lacking in most studio productions these days. At his imagination, Papazian has layered Hayward’s troubled veteran as a man who’ll make a wrong decision though it might inevitably produce the desired result. Also, Papazian remarkably sprinkles the story with authentic and believable secondary characters – Laura San Giacomo shows up as a social worker who’s equally bitter about the greater world at large as she is about the fostering system she’s tasked with managing; Charles S. Dutton is a police detective who tries to ‘do the right thing’ by his community, even if that isn’t what his boss would have him do; and Azura Skye as a gentle ICU nurse with an innate ability to aid the healing process – and this elevates LEAST to deliver some wonderful, story-driven surprises.
Yes, there are some elements that feel a bit of a Hollywood concoction – Hayward briefly uses the boy to try and score points with an ex-wife who clearly still loves him; San Giacomo gripes a bit too obsessively about endemic flaws of everything – but, given what felt fresh and inspired and maybe even a bit life-affirming by comparison, I’ll do like this troubled vet did and try to balance the good with the bad. Plus, the young Leabu makes the most of his young punk role here (he appeared in SUPERMAN RETURNS as young ‘Jason White’) that it’s hard not to embrace the film with greater appreciation than most critics did.
LEAST AMONG SAINTS is produced by LA Saints Production. DVD distribution is being handled through Vertical Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the picture looks and sounds impressive throughout. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that LEAST AMONG SAINTS captured the Audience Choice Award for Best Drama at the 2013 Sedona International Film Festival as well as a nominee for ‘Best Feature Film’ to the 17th Annual Prism Awards. As for the special features, the disc offers up a solid handful worth mentioning: there’s a script-to-screen featurette; a short focusing on how military veterans respond to the story of a troubled vet surmounting the challenges of adjusting to civilian life; a short focusing on the cast working with Papazian; and Papazian’s audio commentary.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Thankfully, LEAST AMONG SAINTS excels as a human drama about two lost souls who realize they’re better off together as opposed to fighting their separate battles. Writer/director/star Martin Papazian has crafted a moving, realistic portrait of a man who finds his fate in surviving the cataclysm of accidents, and he’s rounded out his cast with a stable of learned veterans and a young newcomer in the guise of Tristan Lake Leabu. Together, they deliver a portrait of individuals in crisis and what it takes to rise up against personal adversity and tragedy to find that better part of themselves against the odds.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Vertical Entertainment provided me with an advance DVD copy of LEAST AMONG SAINTS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.