Movie Reviews

Movie Review – Desert Saints: The Bad Guy is Good, and the Good Guy is Bad

Written by Richard Greenberg and Wally Nichols
Directed by Richard Greenberg

When I first heard the title of this Kiefer Sutherland flick, for some reason I envisioned some type of military drama. Instead, I found a movie that although it takes on a familiar theme, throws in enough plot twists and great performances to make it worth watching.

Sutherland is Arthur Banks, a paid assassin. He is well-known to law enforcement, but they have been unable to pin anything on him all these years. The film opens with him murdering his latest “partner” – a down-on-her-luck woman he uses for various aspects of the latest job, then disposing of her.

As he’s driving away from that incident (which the Feds know is him, but there is no evidence that lets them directly tie him to the murder), he meets Bennie, a young woman hitch-hiking to California after her car broke down. Bennie is looking for a fresh start, and he offers her the chance to be his partner in his current job, after which he will give her a cut of the fee. His target is a Mexican Presidential candidate.

Melora Walters is Bennie, who is actually a Federal Agent trying to infiltrate the plan. The Feds need evidence to tie him to the murders, plus they want to know his target and who hired him.

It sounds like a plot I’ve heard (and watched) several times before. However, there is some great acting here on the part of Kiefer Sutherland and Melora Walters. On Walters’s part especially, she manages to be convincing as both the starry-eyed ingenue and the more sophisticated Federal Agent. She does this convincingly by changes in her vocal tones as well as changes in her appearance. Sutherland does a great job as a hit-man who is perhaps tired of the life he’s leading, but too far into it to go back anymore. He even confesses to Bennie at one point that he had opportunities to leave this life, but didn’t and now feels it’s too late. He is both sexy and ruthless, making the character someone I felt like rooting for, despite his occupation.

The question becomes whose side is Bennie on? At one point she seems to be falling for the target, yet defends herself to her fellow agents convincingly. This leads to an amazing plot twist that, although I saw it coming in a sense, I did not entirely expect what happened.

Richard Greenberg directed the film and uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to tell the story surrounding the current events. It can be a bit disconcerting at times, as it demanded my complete attention to fully understand what was happening, but this is a great way of making me think I knew what was happening at the end, only to be fooled.

The film also stars Jamey Sheridan as Scanlon, Bennie’s superior. He is the one who has been on Banks’ trail for many years, just waiting for the moment Banks makes a mistake and he can pin something on him. The character is nothing new or different, but Sheridan does a good job with the material he has to work with.

Leslie Stefanson is a fellow agent, Marbury, who is almost a go-between with Scanlon and Bennie. She is a buffer whom Scanlon believes understands Bennie and will give him insight as to whether or not Bennie can still be trusted.

There’s one major plothole in the story, and that’s how they knew exactly where to place Bennie so Banks would trip over her and pick her up. If Scanlon was that good at plotting it out, then he should have seen some of the other problems that would arise as well. It’s also a bit confusing since Greenberg shows Bennie and Banks meeting at the same time Scanlon is investigating the murder of the last woman Banks partnered with.

This movie kept me interested enough to watch it all the way through and pay attention to what was happening. I’d watch it again just to catch some of the nuances I might have missed. The DVD had no special features, except it was viewable with Spanish subtitles.

All in all, I don’t think watching this movie would be a waste of an evening. It’s entertaining with some great acting and terrific plot twists.

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