In the dubious, semi-recent tradition of A Perfect World, Big Daddy, and I Am Sam, Least Among Saints asks audiences to sympathize with a mentally unstable man who attempts, however briefly, to raise an already troubled child in a fashion that will almost surely prove to be destructive to all parties involved if uninterrupted by higher powers that be. This problem of practical responsibility and even morality was, to be fair, part of the point of the greatly underrated A Perfect World, but in the other aforementioned films the complexity of parental necessity is shoved aside as a mere plot device that enables the filmmakers to score lazy, irrational points on a bureaucratic system that favors crusty, archaic rules over the children’s wants (that the children in question aren’t of a sufficient maturity to choose their caretaker is also conveniently elided). Though no human dies in Least Among Saints, it’s still essentially a vigilante picture that says that a man and child in mutual distress over respective past tragedies should be able to do how and whatever the hell they please, The Man be damned.
Tonally, Least Among Saints is reminiscent of the low-rent action films released under the WWE banner. Writer-director Martin Papazian favors twitchy close-ups and blunt, profane dialogue that relentlessly hammers the characters’ despair and poverty. This is the kind of film in which a social worker (Laura San Giacomo, who deserves better) casually drops the f-bomb around her co-workers and prospective caretakers, while allowing a 10-year-old, Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu), to stay with a nearly complete stranger, Anthony (Papazian), without so much as even a casual search on one of her databases to confirm that he, you know, isn’t a troubled war vet with, among other things, a drinking problem, a restraining order from his ex-wife, and a history of drunken brushes with the law.
Alfred Hitchcock famously complained of viewers who were struck with a case of “the plausibles”—people who couldn’t suspend their disbelief to meet a film on its own terms. But it isn’t unreasonable to expect a film like Least Among Saints, which, yet again in the vigilante-movie tradition, exploits war-time anxiety in an attempt to achieve an unearned sense of importance, to adhere to even basic common sense. Anthony illegally runs off with Wade not once but twice, allows him to skip school, helps him beat up a larger boy, and teaches him how to handle a shotgun. And never mind that all of these actions are occurring one day after Wade’s mother overdoses on what’s probably heroin. The film is simply, particularly for its sensitive subject matter, inexcusably absurd, and, just when you think it can’t get any worse, Papazian stages a shameless scene in which Wade accidentally kills Anthony’s dog, which is meant to parallel the vet’s past tragedies and ultimately send him on a path toward healing. 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.