The Saint (1997)

Directed By Philip Noyce
Val Kilmer, Elisabeth Shue, Rade Seredzija, Valery Nikolaev, Henry Goodman, Alun Armstrong, Michael Byrne, Evgeny Lazarev

Music by Graeme Revell

Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

It’s been a while since I have reviewed some Saint, but this may not be the one you want to hear about. Most people are rather scathing in their assessment of this 1997 incarnation of The Saint, and I completely understand why. As a Saint film, this film is very un-Saint like, and as such, if you’re a fan of Leslie Charteris or any of the shows that have gone previously, then you’ve got every right to be outraged at this production. But it doesn’t deserve to be completely written off.

When I first had an opportunity to watch this film, I was visiting a friend who had it on video. Unfortunately at the forty minute mark, I was called away and didn’t finish the film. Later I hired it from a local video store, but once again something cropped up and I never got to watch it. In the end it simply slipped off my radar and I never got around to hiring the film again. It seemed like I was destined never to watch this version of The Saint (some readers at this point are congratulating me on my good fortune).

Years passed, and I moved cities. In Wollongong, in the centre of town, outside a newsagent, dumped in a bargain bin at a ridiculously low price, were several copies of Burl Barer and Jonathan Hensleigh’s novelisation of the film. I handed over a few sheckels to the cashier and took home a copy of the book and read it in practically one sitting. The story (up to the point I had seen in the movie) was almost identical, but whereas the film seemed like a Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible wannabe, the novel was actually Saint-like. The same story yes, but told in a Saintly fashion. The book was good, and it rekindled my fascination with the film, so I tracked down a copy and watched it, possibly in a more forgiving light – that is until the end credits rolled. Here was my next kick in the guts. You see the film is incomplete. The whole ending is missing from the film. I doubt Mr. Barer and Mr. Hensleigh decided of their own volition to add a few extra chapters. I would therefore suggest that earlier versions of the screenplay, on which the novel was based had a longer ending. Along the way, as the film production progressed, the ending was shortened. I can tell you, that the novelisation’s ending makes sense – or at least gives you more of an insight into the villains of the piece. After all my rambling, my point is that yes, this film is a travesty, but had the film-makers stuck to the story they created and actually made the film in a Saintly fashion, rather than as a generic ‘hi-tech’ thriller, we may have well got a good Saint film.

Here’s what we got! The film opens in The Far East at the St. Ignatius Orphanage. All the children at the orphanage have had their names and identities stripped, and in their place they are renamed for Catholic Saints. One of these boys has be renamed John Rossi, but he refuses to answer to the name thrust upon him. This puts him at odds with the Brother in charge of the orphanage and as a result, young John Rossi cops a caning.

Years later the boy has grown into Simon Templar (Val Kilmer) but the scars run deep. Templar wakes from a nightmare recounting his childhood, but he doesn’t dwell upon it for long. He has other things on his mind – his next mission. It appears that Templar is a mercenary or a soldier of fortune. He takes on risky missions for large amounts of cash, only working for the highest bidder. On this occasion somebody is paying him to break into Tretiak Industries in Moscow and steal a microchip. Templar dons a false moustache and adopts a dodgy Russian accent and goes to work impersonating a security officer.

The day that Templar has chosen to commit this brazen act of thievery is an auspicious one. The head of Tretiak Industries, Ivan Tretiak (Rade Serbedzija) is giving a televised speech calling on Russian’s to rise up, and restore Russia to it’s former glory. Yeah, Tretiak is a megalomaniac, and like all men who crave power he has a dependable henchman at his side. This henchman just happens to be his oldest son, Illya (Valery Nikolaev). Illya is a psycho!

So Simon Templar, AKA The Saint, enters Tretiak Industries with ease. Security guards are everywhere and one more loitering around doesn’t raise any suspicions. Templar isn’t really one to loiter though – he moves with purpose. He mounts the stairs and makes his way up to the higher levels in the building. Once he has reached as far as he can easily go without be detected, he crawls out a window and scales up the side of the building until he reaches the higher level where the microchip is being kept. Naturally the building has security measures in place, and yes, that fine old chestnut – the grid of criss-crossed heat sensitive lasers makes a welcome appearance. The Saint has come prepared for this though, and is wearing a special rubber suit that can be cooled. Basically it lowers his body temperature so he can pass through the laser field with setting off the alarms. He makes it to the safe, opens it, and then takes the chip.

But The Saint’s operation hasn’t gone completely un-noticed. Illya has noticed the open window on the lower level and proceeds to investigate. He catches Templar as he is removing the chip. At this point, The Saint adopts a dodgy Aussie accent, before getting into a scuffle with Illya. After distracting the younger Tretiak with a flash grenade, The Saint leaps from the top level of the building. He freefalls down to a truck waiting below. On the back of the truck, Templar has mounted an airbag to break his fall. Just to let us viewers know that this is The Saint, a snatch of The Saint theme plays in the background.

After Templar’s daring robbery, rather than retaliate, Tretiak senior decides to hire The Saint to do a little thievery on his behalf. The object of the theft is a new top secret formula for ‘cold fusion’ (ie: Nuclear fusion at room temperature). This formula would mean an end to the energy crisis, and more importantly, would make whoever controls it a very rich man.

The scientist who developed this formula is Dr. Emma Russell (Elizabeth Shue), and she works at Oxford University. Templar’s mission is to steal the formula from Dr. Russell. As the film goes on, The Saint adopts more silly disguises and accents, and as he gets closer to Russell an unlikely romance blooms. As I intimated earlier, Tretiak and son are not good guys, and even though they have hired Templar’s services, they do not intend to honour their contract.

I want to like this version of The Saint. So far it is the most professionally mounted version of the character we have seen, and as stated, having read the book, there was a serviceable Saint story as a base. But the direction, by Aussie Phil Noyce, and the acting do not reflect the story that they ‘should’ be trying to tell. All in all, this film is a huge disappointment. Let’s hope that the next time when we encounter The Saint that they do not try to re-invent the character. The character already exists – simply write a good story and let The Saint do his thing.

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