The character of Simon Templar debuted in a series of books first published in the 1920s and running through the 1980s. There have been many film and television adaptations, but my favorite is this film version from the nineties.
THE SAINT SUMMARY
Raised in an orphanage, young John Rossi renames himself after his childhood heroes, the Templar Knights. While there, he develops a unique set of skills, but also witnesses a tragedy which haunts him. As an adult Simon Templar is a thief who uses his skills for his own benefit and the highest bidder. In his line of work, he changes his appearance as often as his identity and his name. Simon is personable and clever, but forms no attachments and calls no place home. Determined to see his bank account reach a comfortable fifty million dollars, before he retires, he takes one last job. Unfortunately, it happens to be for the Russian billionaire, Ivan Tretiak. On a previous job, Simon had a run-in with Tretiak’s son Ilya, whom he left with disfiguring facial scars.
Tretiak hires Simon to steal a formula for clean, inexpensive energy. This formula is a scientific breakthrough developed by the English scientist Emma Russell and her late father. However, Simon finds Emma is not what he expected. Though she is a brilliant scientist, she is also rather naive and a romantic at heart. Simon determines the best and safest way to steal the formula is to seduce her. But in the process, he is charmed by her innocence and her willingness to release her formula publicly, instead of selling it for a profit. When Tretiak threatens Emma’s life, Simon is forced to make a decision. And when Emma discovers Simon’s secret, she puts herself in danger to confront him.
The Saint is one of my favorite films of the nineties. I even paid to see it in the theater three times. In some ways, it is very much like a Mission Impossible film, with the main character being a man of multiple disguises, skills, and resources. Like Ethan Hunt, Simon Templar is a man who lives by his quick wit and even quicker reaction time. Both men are heroes with anti-hero tendencies, but unlike Hunt, who is a spy loyal to the government, Simon Templar is loyal only to his bank account. Still, he has his own sense of honor.
Val Kilmer has never looked better than he does as Simon Templar. He is wonderful as the charismatic thief, who attracts women like flies, yet ultimately remains internally remote, thanks to the memories of his past. It is a lot of fun to see him adopting different personas as disguises for his work. He doesn’t take it too seriously, yet makes it believable when he becomes a poet, a gay personal assistant or a socially awkward reporter. And even though his motivation is selfish, he never comes across as unlikable or evil. This is alluded to in the various alias’ he chooses, which all have a connection to the film’s title.
I also love Elisabeth Shue as the somewhat shy Dr. Emma Russell. Shue has long been a personal favorite of mine. I have always felt that she is mostly under-utilized in her films. But in The Saint she has a great chance to show the character development of an emotionally isolated woman who blossoms when she falls in love. The Emma Russell Simon meets at first is not the same one who recklessly follows him to Russia demanding answers. No one would expect a romance between an international thief and a scientist like Emma to be sustainable, yet somehow her wistful faith in Simon makes it seem possible.
RUSSIA AND THE VILLAIN
Perhaps my favorite thing about this film is the villain, Ivan Tretiak, played by Rade Šerbedžija. Though The Saint is over twenty years old now, its choice of villain is remarkably prescient with this Russian oligarch. Like Simon, his motivations are selfish. He wants control of Russian energy and ultimately power. But, he is not your stereotypical evil villain. When he discovers that the man he has hired is none other than the man who previously stole from him and injured his son, he doesn’t immediately seek revenge. No, he respects his enemy and enjoys the game of trying to outwit him. He forestalls his plans for Simon’s death for the pleasure of toying with him.
Though Šerbedžija was born in Yugoslavia, he is a familiar face to American audiences appearing in other action films like Shooter, Taken 2, Mission Impossible 2, television series 24 and even Downton Abbey and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The film’s settings in both England and Russia added a wonderful authenticity to the story of Simon Templar. Sites in both Oxford and Moscow give the armchair traveler something to appreciate.
Fans of (bloodless) action films should enjoy The Saint. There is a great balance of tension, romance, mystery and character growth in this tale. And though, it never won any awards, it is highly entertaining.
CONTENT NOTE: This film is rated PG-13 for some mild violence, sensuality and several uses of profanity.
WHERE TO WATCH: You can purchase The Saint on DVD or rent from Amazon or GooglePlay.
Photo Credits: Paramount Pictures
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”