Writer-director-star Martin Papazian proves a solid triple threat in his feature scripting and directing debut "Least Among Saints," a modest, surprisingly effective drama about one man's redemption through an exceptional act of kindness.
After an uncertain start, the film develops into a deep and authentically moving story about Anthony (Papazian), a haunted war veteran who moves into his parents' empty Tucson home after his marriage crumbles. But when the ex-Marine's troubled next-door neighbor dies of a drug overdose, Anthony winds up the default guardian of the woman's sensitive 10-year-old son, Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu), against the better instincts of a no-nonsense social worker (Laura San Giacomo) and a watchful local cop (Charles S. Dutton).
What follows is a finely etched portrait of lost souls Wade and Anthony as they co-navigate a new normal and lay out a tentative map for the future. An ill-fated road trip to find Wade's estranged father and Anthony's audacious effort to help the boy avenge a school bully are just two of the film's many memorable, emotionally rich sequences.
Papazian brings Jason Patric-like intensity — as well as that actor's smoldering good looks — to his involving role. But it's his well-calibrated direction, resulting in uniformly strong performances (young Leabu is especially good), confident pacing and an impressive lack of knee-jerk sentimentality, that distinguishes this special piece.
"Least Among Saints." MPAA rating: R for language. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. At AMC's Loews Broadway 4, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.