Here’s one for the nostalgia corner. The Saint holds a special place in my heart that cannot be diminished by time and distance, and so on the list it went. Brooke, kick us off, will you? What are your initial thoughts on this movie, and why do you think I made you watch it?
B: Fun fact. When I think of Batman, the first person I think of is Val Kilmer. I saw the Keaton Batman movies on home video, of course. But he didn’t make an impression. Catwoman, The Penguin and The Joker did. I did see Batman Forever in theaters. I still have a clear promotional coffee cup and I remember hearing that Seal song on the radio nonstop. I love that movie to my core, no matter that all of these years in the world of film academia tell me I should feel otherwise. So I totally get your unironic love for this picture. And I am a big Val Kilmer fan. Batman of my youth aside, Iceman > Maverick. Yeah, I said it. Fight me.
I kind of can’t believe that I never managed to see this movie. And I had no idea it was a thriller. I vaguely remember a VHS cover with Val’s face in close-up and kind of a bluish-green overlay. “THE SAINT” in block letters at the bottom with kind of a data feel. Is that accurate? Anyway, from the adventures as a a young boy from the opening to the title text, everything about this movie smacked of the ’90s. Watching it was kind of like going home, and I felt rather transported in time. For the most part, I was able to keep the older, more cynical, film-school-trained-me at bay while watching this movie. There were moments of course, but I’ll get to my plot questions later on. For now I want to note a persistent thought I had throughout. Cold Fusion (read: an energy crisis) and Russia both factor heavily into the plot of this picture. Do you think that the writers at the time would have believed that both of those elements would fit just as well into a 2017 movie? I sort of think they would be baffled to hear that.
But on to why you had me watch this movie. I think this choice was simple. Much like Body Shots, I see The Saint as, a movie that teenaged Annemarie just couldn’t get enough of. It’s clear to watch it with you that you get a pure enjoyment from this story, and that was reason enough to include it. And it’s also perfect for Required Viewing because it features a lot of costumes, and you know we love to discuss those. I think you see where I am going with this. I want to hear exactly why you chose this movie, but I also want to hear about your favorite Kilmer costume. Mine was the poet — Thomas Moore, was that his name? Anyway, I liked his flowing locks (even though the reminded me of Justin Bobby) and I enjoyed the way he creepily lurked around statues in a mermaid pose. What was your favorite? Also, what was his real name? Simon? I feel like that was the Rosebud of this movie and I didn’t quite cotton on.
A: A man has no name, Brooke. The opening, when young Val is a child in an orphanage in the “Far East… Yesterday” doesn’t tell us his real name, as Simon Templar was a combination of Simon Magus, a real Catholic saint, and the Knights of Templar, which our hero is reading about instead of his bible workbook. I was always left with the impression that Simon wasn’t his given name, but as an abandoned child, the one he decided to co-opt one based upon how he saw himself.
You’re absolutely accurate in your understanding of why I irrationally love this movie. I love the “soft” thriller action, the Russian villains and the chemistry between Val and Elisabeth Shue. I have absolutely no clue if cold fusion is a real-life thing but I bet not because they’ve now told us “clean coal” is a thing. (cue eye roll.) I dearly wish cold fusion to be true and real, because I genuinely think free energy with no emissions would truly change the world for the better.
My favorite transformation has to be the first one Simon thinks Dr. Emma will like, the elderly nerdy glasses man who proclaims that cold fusion is “mumbo jumbo,” and that’s pretty much only because he truly looks completely different. You’re correct, Thomas Moore is the one who successfully seduces Emma and we can see why. By investigating her apartment and going through her personal effects, he is able to custom-fit a man to her specific tastes and desires. Clearly, Emma’s got a type and how wonderful that Simon can look just like that! I adore how she calls him out when he tells her his “name” for that character and understands his true self, which serves to make him feel extra guilty that he’s robbing her of her life’s work.
So on a scale of 1-10, how incompetent are the Scotland Yard detectives? I’m going with a full 10 out of 10, but it’s not really their fault if we’re to believe that Simon is as masterful at disguise as we think he is. Ok, Brooke, let me have it. What are your issues with the plot? “It’s so early, do you guys want to get some coffee or something?”
B: Okay, first, that old mumbo gumbo guy looks like something Mike Myers would have worn as an Austin Powers villain — utterly goofy, though I did enjoy him for that reason. But that begs one of the main questions I had while watching this movie. Are we supposed to believe that Simon is *actually* super good at disguises, or is there meant to be an element of “tongue-in-cheek, I can’t believe they fell for this” to the proceedings. And the answer to that question will have rather a significant impact on my response to the Scotland Yard query. If we are truly to believe that these disguises are good, then I don’t think they are so bad. If the film has some self-awareness, then they are absolutely bumbling and deserve our mockery. It’s disappointing that I am having a hard time finding any GIFs from this movie, because I desperately wish our readers to see the hilarity of some of these get-ups.
Alright, here come my issues. First off, why doesn’t Elizabeth Shue have more than one copy of her formula? Moreover, why doesn’t she have it memorized by now? And hasn’t she been sharing it at conferences like all over the world? So don’t people already have access to her work?! And further, why does Simon keep re-solving problems that have already been solved? I.E. When they are down in the sewers he uses his portable laser cutter thing, AND THEN THROWS IT AWAY, so a few feet later when he needs it again, he’s doomed. Is this just ’90s logic? And ’90s standards wherein people don’t expect better, so it was still okay?
A: I am not personally a physicist, so I am not sure what the cards really meant. Simon has access to her apartment and computer, so he presumably had all of the pieces he needed to steal cold fusion without even speaking to her, so the cards must be super important to the formula. Maybe she only had one copy of the cards because no more than 4 pieces of paper would fit in her bra? Maybe it was laziness, or maybe she felt that they were just so precious that only one copy, held literally to her heart, should exist. Maybe she was just so eccentric that it seemed perfectly logical to not have a backup. Plus, you know how movies like to put obstacles/plot holes in place for our characters to overcome, so I have no real answer here. As to whether she’s been already sharing it, I believe she hadn’t really solved cold fusion until very, very recently, meaning she was sharing her theories in classrooms, but not actually able to give out the real formula until the very end of the movie — because she hadn’t solved it yet.
I can’t forgive any spy or thief throwing away important equipment, but I think there might actually be a plot hole when it comes to the laser-blowtorch device thing. Simon uses it to get into the water pipe with the 2-minute plus-or-minus window before they drown, he doesn’t attempt to open the portal right under the U.S. embassy, but then he uses it to ignite the car that distracts the villain crew and makes Tretiak’s son look like the “damn devil.” Perhaps he declined to try to use it on the embassy manhole cover because he knew he didn’t have time or it wouldn’t be powerful enough? Perhaps we do have a legit goof on our hands and Val Kilmer wasn’t supposed to throw it when they filmed the jump into the water pipe. Or perhaps he had two? I choose to believe that he knew his mini torch would be no match for the manhole cover and knew it would be faster to double back.
One thing’s for sure, nothing gets past this crack crew of investigators known as We Write Things. What else did you have a qualm with? I’m on a roll!
B: I definitely still want to hear your take on the standards of cinema in the 90s versus now. Specifically in the action-adjacent genre of this picture. Do you agree that audiences have become more sophisticated? I’m of the opinion that the 90s have a very distinct vibe, and there are certain pictures that could only have been made in that decade, see: Zoolander. It was delightful, but it doesn’t work now. See Zoolander 2. Give us a bit of AM film theory, do you think the era has a big impact on this picture? In terms of structure? Aesthetic? Everything else?
As for my other qualms, I still wonder if we’re supposed to take this whole master of disguise bit literally. Like, some of them are pretty good, but he rarely does much to obscure his face. He has tech that can fake fingerprints or eyescans and other security, but he doesn’t seem concerned about a facial match — I mean a moustache and a bald patch are on par with a cartoon villain disguise. To be fair, Bugs Bunny would come up with a similar ensemble and find great success, so maybe we’re supposed to see him as a “What’s Up Doc?!” kind of figure, more so than say a Daffy, who would be perpetually thwarted.
This one is probably more a question than anything else, but how has he been stuck just shy of 50 million for such a long time when he can just arrange $8 million worth of gigs in about 30 seconds? Do you think there’s a redemption storyline in play here at all? I mean, the guy is a thief, but he’s never presented as anything but benevolent, even though he could have stolen and sold state secrets for all we know. What’s his moral code? Does he stand for anything? And do you think Elizabeth is the first woman he’s love since the girl he kinda, sorta killed whilst breaking out of school?
A: Whoops! I did breeze right by your overarching qualm as well as the film’s standard as compared to today. I do think we’re meant to take his disguises seriously, because while they veer close to being cartoonish and obvious, the film isn’t played for laughs. I think it’s like when Jason Bourne, Sydney Bristow or James Bond sweep into a room. They are using gadgets and spy prowess to maneuver, but anyone with eyeballs can see their faces. And they don’t seem concerned. It comes down to confidence. Perhaps Simon isn’t worried about facial recognition at Heathrow because he knows he can talk his way out of any situation (or jump off the roof when push comes to shove, quite literally). He gets himself caught several times either deliberately or semi-deliberately, and it always seemed to me that he meant to do the things he does. He’s got a master plan we’re not privy to, and he doesn’t care that the Scotland Yard detectives might recognize him. He’s counting on it not to matter.
I think the quality of the disguises also plays into the sophistication of the film. When it came out in the mid-90s, I don’t think we were meant to question Simon’s abilities or expertise. We do now because we’ve seen films like Mission: Impossible (and obviously many more) use impossibly good disguises, and we see in films like the Jason Bourne series that the hero doesn’t disguise himself at all, but uses pure force and martial arts skill to take down the bad guys. Honestly, Jason Bourne should have had more trouble at the border than Simon ever does.
Simon doesn’t have almost literal shape-shifting abilities, and he doesn’t have the skills of a ninja. He doesn’t even have the array of gadgets that James Bond does, but he does have the charm. If The Saint came out today, we’d demand a level of grittiness and nuance out of Simon that simply wasn’t portrayed in the actual film, but I don’t know that it overall feels like a purely ’90s movie. The cold fusion stuff, as we’ve said, could easily apply to today’s Russia (or Syria, or any of many, many tumultuous countries out there), and we still love our superhero spies today. Perhaps the most ’90s aspect is how pure Simon’s morals are (mostly) and how straightforward the plot is. He does kill, but he feels really, really bad about stealing from Emma and it’s clear that he’s not the villain — the Russian mobsters are. It reflects how relatively innocent that time was, when the mobsters were the only bad guys, and not also, say the Russian president. Twists like that would have made the plot feel more world-weary, more of today.
As for the money, I was always kind of bugged by the fact that he never seemed able to crack $50 million, which is rather arbitrary. The gadgets and high life he’s living, running around Europe, must be expensive. I don’t know if the money is necessarily connected to his moral compass, but I do agree that this is a redemption for him. He’s in the game because he’s good at it, but also because he’s trying to fix the past, and the film is about his redemption. I doubt he’s fallen in love since his childhood (you’re right, it’s 100% his fault that young Agnes dies) and he clearly is still traumatized by the experience. He abandons his original, more greedy goals, to save Emma’s life and her life’s work, and bonus! She’s not only a worthy adversary, but also unexpectedly a worthy partner, one to whom he’s able to prove himself when he risks his life to give cold fusion to the world. She’s the only one in his life that’s made a moral code worth living. I assume after the events of the film, he probably keeps stealing, but only now, he’s more on the Robin Hood side of things, robbing only from those who can afford it or who deserve to be stolen from. Call me ’90s optimistic, but I believe in the power of love here!
B: Oh Annemarie, you sweet, sweet summer child. Since you’re so prepared to forgive the many sins of the 90s cinema aesthetic, I’m going to insist we watch Spice World, and I’ll elaborate all of my views on why that movie is actually severely underrated. I’m not even joking, I really do think that. And as I really do think that, I’ll also allow you to continue to think that The Saint provides a more believable stealth movement situation than does The Bourne Identity. I am such a good friend.
Next time, we’re going to watch a picture that manages to pack in more absurdity and unexpected outfit choices than this one — and in a rare twist, it’s a documentary.