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A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
DVD disk
02.20.2007 By: Mathew Plale
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints order
Director:
Dito Montiel

Actors:
Robert Downey Jr.
Shia LaBeouf
Chazz Palminteri

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Based on director Dito Montiel's memoir, the film centers on Dito (Robert Downey, Jr.) returning home and looking back at the troubled times he had when he was younger (Shia LaBeouf) with his friends in Astoria, Queens.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Somewhere between Mean Streets and Raising Victor Vargas, with dashes of 25th Hour is A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, a film bursting at the seams with authenticity.

A Guide… is first-time director Dito Montiel’s autobiographical song to Astoria, Queens—the heartbreak, the bruises, and the unhealed wounds we can’t see.

Like Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Montiel’s film is viciously real. But Montiel doesn’t want to scare us with his life. He wants to share his story, and lets us into his troubled youth. I know what you’re thinking: you’ve seen one troubled hellraising teen film, you’ve seen them all. That may seem the case, but Montiel’s experience goes a long way, and puts A Guide… in a new realm of the sub-genre.

Though a bit jerky in narrative and that it takes a bit to get used to the style, Montiel’s direct approach to the story (and sometimes broken fourth-wall material) enhance the overall experience for the viewer.

The performances all-around are notable, and even Chazz Palminteri, who remains typecast, breaks from his shell and delivers a saddening performance as Dito’s hard-edged father. Shia Labeouf and Robert Downey, Jr. are terrific as well, whose takes on the Dito character back one another up for a well-rounded character that could have fallen straight into cliché. We just have to ignore the miscasting of Shia LaBeouf playing the young Robert Downey, Jr.

The young Dito’s judgments make it hard for us to sympathize at first, but when we find Dito grown and returning to his old stomping grounds, we find the truth to the film in one word: redemption, and how everyone deserves a shot.
THE EXTRAS
Commentary by director Dito Montiel and editor Jake Pushinsky: Montiel is very fast-talking and jumpy, while Pushinsky is more reserved. It’s obvious Montiel knows nothing of the technical aspects, and invites you to call cinematographer Eric Gautier for any details. And even though the duo is amusing together, they don’t offer much more than ‘Watch this’ or ‘This guy’s great.’ The big disappointment is that Montiel barely (if at all) relates the story to his life. Interesting note: the director wants to punch-out Richard Roeper.

The deleted scenes contain optional director commentary:

Shooting Saints: The Making of… (20:10): A very fine doc examining mostly everything you’d want to know and see about the film: attracting stars, Montiel’s style, set footage, and of course, praise for the director. Montiel (whose memoir the film is based upon) comes off as a genuine newcomer, which is a breath of fresh air, considering most Sundance snobs are quite pretentious about their work. Could’ve gone more in-depth into the actual filming of A Guide… but good nevertheless.

The Alternate Opening/Endings (13:30) are nothing more than deleted scenes that could’ve been bookends for the film. Special? Nah. Worth a glance? Why not?

There’s also nearly 20 minutes of Deleted Scenes, most of which are good but don’t necessarily advance the story, though there is more of Antonio’s father, Giuseppe (who was underused), and Dito’s return home. I’d say fans of the film would love these.

An interesting extra is the Rooftop Scene (6:01), which was shot while at the Sundance Screenwriters/Directors Lab. Starring Dito Mondiel himself and actress Helen Dallas, this is a good short, and it’s great to see what kind of material can be produced at the famous Lab.

Rounding out the main features are an interview with Monty (1:32) (a shorter version can be found after the film’s end credits roll) and an audition for Young Laurie (1:52), which are exactly what they sound like.

And finally, the Trailers and Previews.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
A Guide... squeezed its way into my Top 10 of 2006 after I saw it. A fine film that hopefully doesn't go overlooked or misjudged. The movie alone is worth at least a rental, and the features make it worth a purchase.
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