Ten Thousand Saints
TEN THOUSAND SAINTS, drama, rated R, The Screen, 3 chiles
In late 1980s America, change was in the air. It was felt particularly keenly in New York City, as a lot of things are, and it erupted in the 1988 riots in Tompkins Square Park. The park is located in the Alphabet City area of the East Village, a neighborhood with a tradition of tolerance, and when a city government inclined toward gentrification tried to impose a curfew and move out the undesirables — skinheads, drug dealers, indigents — who had come to call the park home, things got ugly.
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, a filmmaking couple who made their first splash with American Splendor, have captured that period of malaise in the city’s evolution, and they use Tompkins Square as a symbol, although they don’t dwell on the riots.
The movie is an adaptation of a debut novel by Eleanor Henderson, and it is steeped in nostalgia for the East Village of the CBGB era. It begins, however, in Vermont, where Jude (Asa Butterfield, the kid in Hugo )isa disaffected teenager, still traumatized by the breakup eight years earlier of his post-hippie parents (Julianne Nicholson and Ethan Hawke).
His stoner dad, Les, now lives in the East Village, and when things in Vermont take a tragic turn, his mother makes the curious decision to send him down to the cradle of sin to live with his father and get straightened out. There he finds himself forming a bond with Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld) and with Johnny (Emile Hirsch), a singer with a punk band. What you need to know about Johnny: He’s “straight-edge” — a punk movement reacting against sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll (well, it kept the rock ’n’ roll). He’s also the half-brother of Teddy (Avan Jogia), who figured in the Vermont tragedy. So did Eliza, in a different way. What you need to know about Eliza: She’s the daughter of Les’ uptown girlfriend Di (Emily Mortimer). And she’s pregnant.
The filmmakers do an insightful job with character and place, and these are the elements that drive the vehicle and give it a bittersweet staying power. Butterfield has to hold the center, but he’s buttressed by adept, solid support from his wingmen, Steinfeld and Hirsch. And Hawke steals the show with what is in some ways a reprise of his Boyhood character, a feckless but likable dad, who shows unexpected reserves of resourcefulness and understanding when the chips are down.
Holding a newborn baby, Jude muses wonderingly, “He’ll be completely different in 10 years.” So will we all. So will Tompkins Square Park.
— Jonathan Richards
You call these wingmen? Asa Butterfield