The movie is a coming-of-age drama about a boy growing up in Astoria, New York during the 1980s. As his friends end up dead, on drugs, or in prison. He comes to believe he has been saved from their fates 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
What kind of writer reveals his troubled childhood, then directs a semi-autobiographical film about it, using a character with his own name? Bold, foolish or maybe both, that's exactly what Dito Montiel did.
Reminiscent of Larry Clark's Kids in Manhattan, it depicts adolescents growing up in a tough neighbourhood, in the borough of Queens. For some of these youth, the dangers lay not just on the streets, but also in their own homes. Dito only knew he had to get away.
At first the film is a little difficult to watch visually the editing and hand-held camera are abrupt. As the film develops, and the story shifts into the present, it becomes evident that this was a deliberate device to depict the nature of recollection. As Dito makes the journey across the continent to visit the ill father he hasn't seen in 15 years, a montage of childhood memories flood his mind.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints at times is not an easy film to watch but is more accessible than Kids. Both films depict the dangers faced by adolescents. While Kids depicted the consequences of those dangers, this film portrays how one boy escapes from them, but ultimately needs to confront and reconcile his past.
The performances in the film are strong. The actors are all very credible. The dialogue is saturated with authenticity. Melonie Diaz, who previously appeared in Raising Victor Vargas, beautifully portrayed Dito's childhood girlfriend Laurie. Rosario Dawson plays the grown up Laurie, and incidentally made her film debut in Kids.
Producer Robert Downey Jr. who encouraged Montiel to make the film, was excellent in an understated role as the adult Dito. The transition of actors between 1986 and the present was depicted effectively. Special mention to Chazz Palminteri, who always has a strong but unforced screen presence.
A film made with a small budget, it pays off with a strong, emotionally powerful and worthwhile story. I was surprised how the emotional impact crept up towards the end, as Dito dealt with his past as best he could.
This film is highly recommended for those who enjoy human drama in shades of grey. There's no good guy/bad guy thing happening here. It's people dealing with the hand that destiny has given them, and trying to find their way. It is full of emotional honesty and plausibility that you can buy into. And don't leave until after the final credits.
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