Altogether, the family drama Ten Thousand Saints is a fine film. Its script, direction, and cinematography are all expertly executed. It’s also set during a very interesting time in Manhattan’s social history—the twilight of its pre–Rudy Giuliani years. Manhattan is still gritty, is still affordable to artists and drug dealers, and still has lots of homeless people camped in its parks and on its sidewalks. In 1994, all of that is to change, and the borough begins its transformation into what it is today: a gated community for the world’s richest people.
But what stands out in Ten Thousand Saints is Ethan Hawke, an actor who is only getting better with age. Hawke plays with unprecedented perfection the insouciant father of a teenager, Jude (Asa Butterfield), whose best friend, Teddy (Avan Jogia), died of an overdose and is also the father of a baby a young woman, Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), has decided not to abort. Jude falls in love with Eliza, and so, too, does Teddy’s half-brother Johnny (Emile Hirsch), who is the lead singer of a “straight-edge” punk band called Army of One.
Whenever Hawke enters a scene, the film is lifted into the condition of music. He does not so much act as play his character with the spontaneity of a jazz drummer. You never know where he is coming from, what he is going to say next, or how he is going to respond to a crisis. Nor is it clear why such a bad father and philanderer is so charming. Hawke just keeps things rolling to the very end. His performance deserves every award out there.