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Ruthless hit-man Arthur Banks (Kiefer Sutherland) is a well-educated, cold-blooded killer who works for a Latin American drug cartel disposing of those annoying little problems crime families tend to face. On these important jobs, Banks seeks out down-on-their-luck women, enlists them as his accomplice and, when the job is done, whacks them. On his way to a high-profile hit in Mexico, Banks picks up Bennie (Melora Walters) who is desperately trying to escape her abusive husband, and convinces her to become his partner. Unwilling to trust each other and on the run from tenacious F.B.I Agent Scanlon (Jamey Sheridan), who got wind of Banks’s latest assignment, the pair’s mission and their substantial pay-off is endangered by double crossings and betrayal.

Review by: Craig Miller:
Cutting his teeth as an assistant director over the course of his career has not proven beneficial for director Rich Greenburg, with his debut performance in the top directing job a pretty disappointing effort. While there are elements of Desert Saints that do work, most of it is just the product of a first time director ‘getting it out of his system’. There is little evidence that Greenburg has spent much time behind the camera, and probably even less in an editing room, as Desert Saints moves about at an inconsistent pace and in a way that may leave some viewers rather confused. 

Told in a series of flashback/flash-forward sequences, we follow Sutherland’s Ivy League educated hit-man on his most important job to date, as he works his way to Mexico with a wet-behind-the-ears off-sider, all the while being tracked by the F.B.I.

Instead of jumping between the three different story lines (the F.B.I perspective, the meeting of Banks and Bennie and the hit itself), Greenburg would have been much better off telling the story in the traditional start to finish format. But he meanders back and forth, rarely giving us any real information about the twists and turns of the story until the last twenty minutes or so when he just lets fly, making the story a lot more complicated than it actually is.

Performance wise, Kiefer Sutherland is the star of this show, and really he doesn’t do a bad job at all considering what he is given to work with. As the TV show 24 will attest, Sutherland is at his best playing characters with an edge, and the glimpses he shows can really be attributed to his abilities rather than anything in the script, which tends to rein him in more than working to his strengths. The moments where he begins to deliver as the intelligent scholar turned rogue are not given any depth thanks to Greenburg (once again) who fails to explore what could have been interesting territory, settling to reveal Banks’ characteristics through clichés and an assortment of tried and true story arcs.

Melora Walters delivers another awful performance (see Wisegirls) as the troubled Bennie, who has more than a little to hide from her new partner-in-crime Banks, and from scene to scene is as convincing as a stand-in actor - just blurting out lines for others to react to.

The rest of the cast are little more than bit players who chime in with backstory and information from time to time, but little is made of them even though one of these bit characters turns out to be the catalyst behind the film’s conclusion. While there are a couple of positives in Desert Saints, mainly the involvement of Sutherland and a couple of nice panning shots in the opening sequences which promise positive things that fail to eventuate, the overall product is a pretty forgettable affair that may have an eye on video store heaven but is more suited to midday movie hell.

Published April 29, 2004

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(US, 2001)

CAST: Kiefer Sutherland, Melora Walters, Jamey Sheridan, Rachel Ticotin Leslie Stefanson, Alan Gelfant, Keith Diamond

DIRECTOR: Rich Greenburg

SCRIPT: Rich Greenburg & Wally Nichols

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 widescreen 16:9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Village Roadshow

DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004

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