Review: TEN THOUSAND SAINTS with Ethan Hawke and Asa Butterfield - Sundance 2015

When looking for a good independent film at Sundance, there are a lot of hot topics the movies tend to focus on. These topics range from coming-of-age stories to stories surrounding death, or ones dealing with heavy issues like drugs, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, homelessness, and poor parenting. Ten Thousand Saints is a film that manages to comfortably fit all these issues into one movie and still have room for some good laughs.

Ten Thousand Saints follows the story of a drug using teenager named Jude, played by Asa Butterfield, who, after a life-changing tragedy, is sent to New York by his mother to live with his pot-smoking father, Les (Ethan Hawke), who left them when Jude was nine. While there, Jude begins to clean up his life and gets to know his father more, as well as making friends with his father's girlfriend's daughter and his best friend's straight-edge brother.

The story is truly amazing, and as previously mentioned, tackles a lot of issues the world currently deals with. This is a film that makes you think about the lives of others instead of your own, which is a strong compliment for any movie. It's all the more impressive that it manages to do this without seeming preachy or over the top. All too often, films — particularly independent films — try to strong-arm a message into a movie that crowds the film with too much going on and makes the film seem insincere. This movie seamlessly weaves the lives of its characters and each of their own struggles together in a unique way.  

Butterfield has grown a lot since Ender's Game. His performance is strong and special, and at the beginning of the movie, I didn't care for his character too much. He was whiny and inconsiderate, or, in a word, a teenager. However, as he grew in different ways, he became likable and I rooted for him more. One particular moment in which the whole audience cheered was when Jude cut off his long emo bangs that had been hanging in front of his face for the first half. Butterfield has begun to prove that he may be ready to tackle some older roles.

Emile Hirch, Hailee Steinfeld, Emily Mortimer, Juliane Nicholson, and Avan Jogia make up the rest of the cast, and they all are spectacular in their respective roles, each bringing an individual set of strengths and struggles. The real star of the show, however, is Hawke. His charm and wit amplify each scene he is in. From the very beginning of the movie, he wins you over with the touching yet honest conversation he has with his 9-year-old son telling him he's adopted. In the hands of another actor, his character could have come off as slimy and inconsiderate, but Hawke manages to make you love him even in his lowest of moments.  And during his high moments, it makes you realize how great of an actor Hawke really is.

Altogether, this is your basic cookie cutter coming of age indie flick. But it manages to shake up the ingredients and put them together so well that it leaves you wanting more. If you like independent films, this is definitely one you'll want to see when it comes out. If anything, maybe you'll leave it with a better outlook on the lives of the less fortunate.

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