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USA 2006
Directed by
Dito Montiel
98 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, A

Synopsis:  Successful writer Dito (Robert Downey Jnr) is informed by his mother (Dianne Wiest) that his father (Chazz Palmintieri) is seriously ill. Coming home after so many years is a trauma for Dito, as his father never forgave him for leaving. When he returns, all the memories of his youth come flooding bac and he is forced to come to terms with many aspects of his past, as well as his present family relationships.

Inspired by Montiel’s real-life growing up in the rugged neighbourhood of Astoria, Queens, AGTRYS is yet another of those coming-of-age, reconciling-the-past dramas that seem to pop up with regularity. On the positive side, it is marked by some really fine performances although the constant shuffling from present to past is an all too common device that tends to interrupt emotional continuity (as does the casting, accepting Shia LaBeouf as a younger version of Downey Jnr js not easy .

The “saints” of the title are the pals with whom Dito had spent (or mis-spent!) his youth. These include his childhood sweetheart Laurie (Melonie Diaz, but in another large credibility stretch played as an adult by Rosario Dawson), the new boy in town Scottish Mike (Martin Compston), and street ruffians. Giuseppe (Adam Scarimbola) and Antonio (Channing Tatum), the latter a tragic character, who suffers physical abuse at the hands of his father. Dito's father although a man who adores his son fails to understand his son's sense of alienation from his surroundings and this builds to a bitter estrangement between them, something which, of course, fuels the rather over-heated emotional arc of film.

Not a lot happens initially as these young guys generally do what young guys do in the ‘hood. But the ante is upped when a thug from the local Puerto Rican gang attacks Dito and Antonio responds accordingly with tragic consequences. In one scene the young people talk to camera about how they perceive themselves and their neighbourhood – more use of this technique would have enhanced the film. I couldn’t help at times but be reminded of Raising Victor Vargas, a film which captured similar material in a more compelling manner.

All the performances are excellent but it is Antonio, played by Channing Tatum who leaps off the screen as a character both violent and vulnerable. Wiest displays a meticulous approach to her role as an Italian mother, while Palmintieri  is totally convincing as Dad. Mention must be made of a small role, Frank, the dog walker, (with whom the boys get some part-time work). Anthony de Sando so immerses in this fascinating character that I believed he must be the real-life Frank, who still lives in New York.




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