When Eleanor Henderson’s novel of Ten Thousand Saints came out in 2011, it was almost a response to American culture in the mid-1980’s, and during that time, America was a scary place to live in. Drugs were selling on every street corner, crack was coming out, crime was out of control, and if you were walking a city-street block at night, you were taking your life in your own hands. Henderson’s novel was about experiencing a dying culture in American history, and screenwriters/directors, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, have attempted to put that vision onto the screen with some results. We see drug-taking outsider, Jude Keffy-Horn, who loses his best friend, Teddy, earlier on in the film, so his adoptive father, Les, attempts to whisk him away to New York to escape the pain. Once arriving, he attempts to embrace the straight-edge code set by Teddy’s half-brother, Johnny, whilst also attempting to make a connection with Eliza, the daughter of his father’s girlfriend and is pregnant with Teddy’s child.
We essentially see the film through Jude’s eyes, and it’s through here, we get a brilliantly realised view of 80s America. What both Springer Berman and Pulcini have managed to do so well is bring back to life that decrepit view of how the city was portrayed back then, and most importantly, these settings look as though they have been lived-in and re-appropriated, creating that sense of realism. It highlights the peak of the Tompkins Park riots of 1988 and uses it as a backdrop to serve the character’s storylines, and in some ways, this point of change in American history almost mirrors the events of this film with children being displaced with their parents. Jude feels out of touch and disconnected with his adoptive parents, and Eliza, due to her pregnancy, feels alienated from her pushy and overbearing mother, so the theme of disparity between children and their parents is at the very core of this film.
The film is also held up by some strong performances across the board: Asa Butterfield is a likeable lead, bringing real emotion and complexity to the role of Jude. Ethan Hawke plays the typical slacker-dad role he’s been accustomed to for years, but even then, he still excels as Jude’s adoptive father, having the perfect combination of comedy and tragedy. Ever since True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld has been rather poorly served by roles ever since, but here we’re reminded just how much of a true rising star Steinfeld is. She does brings real weight and emotion to a complicated role, which could’ve gone either way, but she manages to make the role of Eliza believable enough to make us care about her and the struggles she’s going through.
Occasionally, the style does come in the way of substance and the film’s pacing and tone can put some people off, but as it stands, it is a flawed, but admirably flawed adaptation of a well-respected source novel with wonderful attention-to-detail, a great soundtrack that’ll fill many with nostalgia, and superb performances, not least from both Hawke and Steinfeld. It won’t be for everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly worth checking out when you get the chance.
Dir: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Scr: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Ethan Hawke, Avan Jogia, Emile Hirsch, Emily Mortimer, Julianne Nicholson
Prd: Luca Borghese, Anne Carey, Amy Nauioka, Trudie Styler, Celine Rattray, Luca Borghese, Datari Turner
DOP: Ben Kutchins
Music: Garth Stevenson
Run time: 113 mins
Ten Thousand Saints is out on DVD on April 18th and is available on Digital Download now.