Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

I caught this film only recently, and what attracted me to it was that it was about a bunch of boys growing up in Queens during the 80's. I being from that part of the world wanted to see what the story was about. I had no pre-conceived idea about the plot or the film itself, and I was thoroughly blown away by this little film that I had heard nothing about. Dito Montiel directs this movie from his novel "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints ", and he does so with a very dramatic effect. Robert Downey Jr plays Dito in present time. His mother phones him from Astoria Queens to tell Dito that his father is sick, and he needs to get to a hospital. As Downey heads to his dad we are slowly shown Dito's past & how he got to where he is. Shia LaBeouf plays the young Dito as he grows up on the means streets of Astoria. LaBeouf does a great job at portraying an aimless youth trying to scrape by day to day in a neighborhood of tough guys and bullies. His friend and defender is Antonio played by Channing Tatum. Tatum plays Antonio with a lot of volatility and we sense in the character a lot of hostile urges waiting to be unleashed. This is no small task since Antonio is a real life person based on Montiel's friend. Chazz Palminteri plays Monty Dito's father an aging boxer who fixes typewriters. Here Palminteri knows exactly how to play Monty. Monty is a man of the streets and he admires Antonio, but he forgets to tell his son how much he loves him. The film was shot in Astoria, Queens and it has a good look to it. It's feels authentic, and the way Monteil uses repeating dialogue and jump cuts makes that authenticity real. I would also be remiss to include Dianne Wiest as Dito's mother Flori. She makes Flori come alive off the screen, and I really saw a lot of other mothers that I knew while I grew up in and around New York. How Wiest never got a nod for an award for her performance is beyond me.

First time director Dito Montiel creates a film that is based on his own occurrences. "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" is a personal picture engulfed in beautiful undertones of love, regret and forgiveness. I really liked the way this film felt, and its characters. I wanted to know more about Montiel, and his past. Rosario Dawson, & Eric Roberts make brief appearances in the film, and add to the performances. But it is the entire cast that makes this movie special. Montiel has said in interviews he wasn't originally to direct the film. Downey was originally to direct the film, but later dropped out due to conflict in his schedule. Montiel has a knack at capturing the chaos of the streets and how really teen boys think & act, and again this goes to the films authenticity. The movie takes place in the summer of 1986, and it feels like it. The cars, and the cloths all contribute to the look and feel, but it is the actors that give this film a breath of fresh air. The film won the directing award & the special jury Prize in 2006 at Sundance. It was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in 2007 for best screenplay. All these awards and yet I've never heard of the film. It is an amazing fact that films like these get sweept under the rug, or is it just a case of too much too fast. Long ago films arrived and stayed at your local theater for a time. Now films come and go. These films are soon relagated to DVD as soon as they fail to draw BIG box office. It is our fortune to see them, but it is unfortunate that many of these films ever get widely seen.

If you get a chance see this film, and watch some really great performances. Based on this first film I can't wait to see what Montiel will direct next, and as for the performers in this film my hats off to all of them. It's films like this that make me excited about filmmaking.

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