There Are No Saints is for exploitation heads only, a warmed-over rehash that excises much of Schrader’s heady themes in favor of bland bloodshed.
In There Are No Saints, Neto Niento (José María Yazpik) is a gang enforcer known as “The Jesuit” because of his propensity for torture, something that Catholic fraternal order shared during the Inquisition. Newly released from prison after the cop who put him away admits, on his deathbed, to planting evidence, Neto has only a moment to survey the ruins of his old life before getting the hell out of Dodge — both the police and his old associates would love to see him dead. His wife has left him for a crime boss and doesn’t want Neto to see his son, who reveres his father. He’s got plenty of time to reflect on his sins alone in his motel room.
If that last part — and all that business about Jesuits — sounds a bit like a Paul Schrader movie, that’s because it is, or at least he has the sole writing credit on this long-delayed movie that wrapped production way back in 2013. There Are No Saints is not, however, much like the recent revered work of the old crank, but instead director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa has used this script to make a slick, violent crime movie that is more than happy to basically abandon its initially heady themes in favor of more typical straightforward bloodshed. Those sins Neto reflects on in flashback won’t be atoned for, but will eventually have plot relevance. There’s little novel in the warmed-over revenge plot that emerges, and Ulloa doesn’t direct the film’s action sequences with any of the cleanliness or perspective that can usually elevate this sort of junk. But There Are No Saints finds some invigoration in a totally amoral mean streak that’s something of a throwback, not to the time the film was made, but to the time Paul Schrader was writing Rolling Thunder.
That nastiness means there’s no redemption for Neto, not even an effort toward it. There’s no time for treacly heart-of-gold stuff like that when Vincent (Neal McDonough), the guy who’s banging Neto’s wife, has kidnapped his son. McDonough is easy casting for a role like Vincent as he seems to naturally ooze a smarmy menace that can sometimes make him hard to believe in non-villainous roles. Vincent is frightening and dishes out pain indiscriminately, but he’s nothing compared to The Jesuit. That the film’s de facto good guy will not hesitate to put a corkscrew under someone’s fingernails and has no hokey code or any semblance of a moral compass is There Are No Saints’ primary, grimy pleasure. Were its action scenes better and had its plot not popped out of a microwave, it might have approached B-movie heaven and a more easily recommendable watch. In this form, it’s a fine time for exploitation heads only, a 90-minute roll in the mud that doesn’t impress but is good enough for a quick fix.