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.
Dito, a writer in L.A., goes home to Astoria, Queens, after a 15-year absence when his mother calls to say his father's ill. In a series of flashbacks we see the young Dito, his parents, his four closest friends, and his girl Laurie, as each tries to navigate family, race, loyalty, sex, coming of age, violence, and wanting out. A ball falls onto the subway tracks at a station, small things get out of hand. Can Dito go home again? Written by
Robert Downey Jr jokes that at one point Trudie Styler locked him, Dito Montiel and Alex Francis (who was head of development) into her apartment in New York and wouldn't let them out until they had "nailed the structure". See more »
In the 1980s scenes the red hand/green walking person can be clearly seen at the street crossing, but in NYC at that time the older walk/don't walk signs were being used. See more »
"My name is Dito and I'm going to leave everyone in this film"
In this autobiographical coming-of-age piece, director Dito Montiel confronts his gritty past in Astoria, Queens. He tells the doomed story of a teenage boy who spends his days in the seedy hot crime-infested backstreets of 1980's New York City to the day when he leaves for California and does not return until twenty years later, when his father (Chazz Palminteri) is sick. The retelling is impressive and absorbing.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is bursting with the flair of a debut director, who is eager to employ a wide variety of techniques steadicams, punctured narrative, flashbacks, script interjections, dreamlike non-chronological editing and an uneven pace. The good news is that it channels Spike Lee's criminal Queens street style with fast-paced local jargon that recycles 'fuck' in every sentence and snaps and crackles like kindling in a fireplace between its many thug-like characters. Owing to its coming-of-age format, the story often stays wildly unfocused and you get the feeling many scenes do not serve a purpose other than to get us a feel for the venality with which things were run.
Nevertheless, the characters are all absorbing, especially the young versions of Robert Downey Jr, Eric Roberts and Rosario Dawson. One of these is Antonio a childhood friend of Dito's and local bully who does wonderful improvisation-like raw lines. The vast contingent of American preeteen fangirls who were lusting after Channing Tatum after his cheesy teen movies had put me off this actor at first, but it cannot be denied that he gives one of the most intense performances in the film as Antonio he is hard-edged, testosterone-fuelled and doomed. Robert Downey Jr. is remarkably toned down as the grown-up Dito, delivering sparse lines and abandoning his usual colourful style of acting.
Together the four Queens teens harass girls, beat up rival gangs, shoplift and give attitude to on-lookers and this is undoubtedly when it feels the most like Spike Lee Lite. Saints patiently crafts tension at several points in the story, and it prefers climaxes to continuity as bad events snowball into criminal messes, deaths and the final abandonment by Dito. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is an interesting and compelling story, recreated with deft strokes by local Dito Montiel.
Sting and Trudi Styler loved the script so much they went to great lengths to support the production, and Chazz Palminteri delayed the shooting of another film of his with money out of his own pocket just to be able to play the bruised father in the film. These should serve as marks of its success and most of all the commitment with which its cast approached the film.
7.5 out of 10
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