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Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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'Least Among Saints': War vet, orphan head into uncertain future

A movie review of "Least Among Saints," a well-intentioned but occasionally illogical indie drama about a Middle East war veteran (writer/director Martin Papazian) who befriends a newly orphaned 10-year-old and struggles to build a hopeful future for both of them.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Least Among Saints,' with Martin Papazian, Tristan Lake Leabu, Laura San Giacomo, Charles S. Dutton. Written and directed by Papazian. 105 minutes. Rated R for language. Southcenter

16.

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Earnest to a fault, "Least Among Saints" is a labor of love for writer/director Martin Papazian, a seasoned film and TV actor making his directorial debut. This quietly affecting indie film, about a Middle East war vet and the 10-year-old boy he takes under his wing, gently pulls the heartstrings while making dramatic missteps along the way.

Anthony (played by Papazian) is still adjusting after several tours of duty. He witnessed too much death, including an Afghani family (with a young boy) that he'd killed by accident. Returning home hasn't offered much solace: He drinks too much, his ex-wife is still angry about his long-term absence, and his faithful dog is his only source of affection.

Then he befriends the neighbor kid, Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu), shortly before his junkie mom succumbs to an overdose. Under the watchful eyes of a stern social worker (Laura San Giacomo) and a no-nonsense cop (Charles S. Dutton), the traumatized vet and the newly orphaned kid form a bond that might lead to a better future for both of them.

It's just that simple, dramatically speaking, but "Least Among Saints" scores points for sincerity. That may be enough to jerk a few tears from sentimental viewers, and the film's returning-vet theme resonates with current headlines about post-traumatic stress disorder and military suicides.

So why does Anthony make so many inexcusable mistakes? During an unauthorized road trip, he teaches the kid how to fire a shotgun (really?!) with predictably tragic results, and he's inexplicably allowed to be with the kid before Giacomo's strident character has bothered to run a background check.

Anthony's a good man, and like Papazian he has the best intentions. But when the film reaches for a hopeful conclusion, we have to take it on faith that things won't go terribly wrong. Nothing wrong with faith, but has the movie really earned it?

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