It seems that Ethan Hawke not only likes coming of age films, but he’s really good at the role of the imperfect father. Ten Thousand Saints is no Boyhood but it gives us a look in to the life of an American teenager in the late 1980’s in New York’s East Village. Sometimes a slice of life movie is just what you need to learn a larger life lesson. Unfortunately, this one isn’t it.
Jude (Asa Butterfield) likes to get high with his buddy Teddy (Avan Jogia). After one fateful night, in which Teddy gets Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld) pregnant and huffs freon to death, Jude is dramatically shaken to his core by the loss of his friend. To get a fresh start, Jude moves in with his father, Les (Ethan Hawke), a pot dealing squatter.
As the story moves forward, Eliza winds up leaning on Jude and Les (her mother’s boyfriend) to help deal with the pregnancy under her mom’s nose. Eventually Johnny (Emile Hirsch), Teddy’s older brother who is a Krishna punk rocker, steps in to fill his borther’s place in Eliza’s life. As Eliza goes on tour with Johnny’s band, Jude is along for the ride too. In fact, everything seems to happen around Jude as the silent observer throughout the rest of the movie after the freon incident.
The film’s fault is its main character. Jude just seems to blow with the wind. We know he has a thing for Eliza, but he keeps himself in the friend zone. He’s probably the better guy for her, but he let’s Teddy and Johnny step up to the plate. He has years of anger built up toward his father, but he let’s go of it overnight when Les sneaks back into Jude’s life via the window after hearing of Teddy’s death. With a passive protagonist, it’s hard to really invest in the journey the film wants to take you on.
It’s not that the ensemble cast of Ten Thousand Saints didn’t give it a good effort. They tried, and Ethan Hawke definitely succeeded in giving a stand out performance. Some books just don’t make good adaptations to the big screen.