DVD Review: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
By Patrick Luce Feb 22, 2007, 17:17 GMT
The movie is a coming-of-age drama about a boy growing up in Astoria, N.Y., during the 1980s. As his friends end up dead, on drugs or in prison, he comes to believe he has been saved from their fate by various so-called saints. ...more
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a gritty look at growing up on the streets of Queens in the 1980s, and the impact events of your childhood can have on your adult life. The film is unflinching, and captures the audience through its unique visuals and the performances of its cast.
Writer/director Dito Montiel adapts his memoirs into a film that tells his childhood story through flashbacks that surround his character as he returns to his home in Queens. The director cast Shia LaBeouf (Holes and the upcoming Transformers) to play the younger version of himself and actor Robert Downey Jr. (A Scanner Darkly and the upcoming Iron Man) as the adult version. The film also stars Rosario Dawson, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Melonie Diaz, Channing Tatum, and Eric Roberts (in a very brief appearance).
The film basically tells two stories (the young Dito and the adult Dito) at one time. It opens with Downey reading from his book, learning that his father (Palminteri) is sick and that he needs to return to Queens. Downey has been living in California, and you can quickly figure out that when he left home it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. He has no intention of going home until he gets a call from his old friend Antonio (Roberts).
As he travels back to Queens, the movie drifts into flashback and we are introduced to a young Dito (LaBeouf), and his gang of friends – including a young Antonio (played by Tatum). They are basically street kids with nothing to do all day. They go to school (a Catholic school education) when it suits them, and are basically hoodlums. They aren’t really bad kids, but don’t have much supervision or reason to behave. Of the bunch, Tatum seems to be the most likely to end up in jail - a prediction that will come to pass before the movie is over. He is constantly getting into fights and always seems to be in a state of anger. The audience later learns that he comes from an abusive home and is his father’s favorite punching bag. However, Antonio is loved by Dito’s father – who seems to almost elevate him to a higher place than Dito.
As Downey returns home and meets some of his old friends again, the audience is slowly exposed to what caused him to runaway from Queens. Dito had some problems with some other kids from a different neighborhood, and violence was the end result. As the flashback story unfolds, Antonio loses a brother – which further sends him over the edge. When Dito is jumped, Antonio is sent on a mad quest for revenge – which leads to one of the friends getting killed. Dito tries to talk to his father about his problems, but can’t find a way to communicate so he runs away. This final “secret” is revealed as Downey is forced to finally talk to his father and share their true feelings for each other.
The above was a brief description of the emotions that are wrapped up in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. When the DVD arrived on my desk, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was interested in seeing the movie. The film is a powerful story told through brilliant performances by its cast, a unique visual style from cinematographer Eric Gautier, and a solid job from Montiel – who is in the director’s chair for the first time.
Though they are never on screen together, LaBeouf and Downey do a good job complimenting each other’s acting styles and making the audience believe they are seeing two versions of the same character at different ages. It had to be a unique experience to play a character version of the person sitting in the director’s chair, but both actors do a good job rising to the challenge.
LaBeouf shows all the characteristics of teen innocence (although his character is far from a saint) through his beliefs that going to California will solve his problems. Downey captures that innocence that LaBeouf possessed, and shows how those decisions now seem to haunt the character.
Tatum and Diaz are also very good in the film and deliver two sides of a coin for LaBeouf. Tatum is from the streets. He is violent, stubborn, wrong, and blinded to his own faults. He is Queens to the young Dito character. Diaz is intelligent, independent, and doesn’t concern herself with the neighborhood feuds. She is the chance for something better, and California to the young Dito.
The DVD comes with decent special features that will give you more insight into the real Dito Montiel and the other characters in the film. The features include “Shooting Saints: The Making of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” which is about 20 minutes long, and consists of interviews with Montiel, the film’s producers, and its cast. It shows how everyone was committed to the project, and making the film happen. The features also include an alternate opening and four alternate endings with commentary by Montiel. The alternate endings are really worth watching because they give more screen time for Roberts.
There is also a grab bag of little extras that might interest fans including a look at a scene from the film that was acted by Montiel with actress Helen Dallas and shot as part of the Sundance Labs. Finally, there are scenes with Diaz auditioning for the young Laurie role, a look at Montiel’s father, and some trailers for other films.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a heavy drama that is well worth taking the time to watch. It features strong performances from Downey and LaBeouf; a powerful story from director/writer Dito Montiel; and a unique visual style that captures the gritty street element of the plot. I highly recommend taking a chance on the movie.