A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

There is a lot of publicity and hype surrounding A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, the new film from Dito Montiel which he adapted from his memoir about growing up in Astoria, New York.  Montiel had a pretty rough childhood, and eventually moved to California to escape his old life and start fresh.  Montiel won the Director's Award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, and the cast won a Special Jury Prize for an Ensemble performance.  Critics have been falling over each other to fawn over A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and all of the acclaim is partially deserved.  The acting is raw and emotional, but the story feels a bit lacking at times.

It's the mid-1980s, and Astoria is a melting pot.  According to Dito's father Monty (Chazz Palminteri, In the Mix, Hoodwinked!), even the Puerto Ricans listen to Journey.  Monty has seizures, and resists Dito's (Shia Lebouf, The Greatest Game Ever Played, Constantine) desire to travel.  Italy, China, and everything else are just a few blocks away.  Dito wants more, and is increasingly realizing that his life in Astoria will get him nowhere.  The main person he hangs out with is Antonio (Channing Tatum, Step Up, She's the Man), an older neighborhood guy who is good to his friends, but sometimes a bit of trouble.  He's the "big man" around the neighborhood, and Monty idolizes him.  Together, Dito, Antonio and a couple other kids hang out and get into trouble during the sweltering heat.

Montiel's narrative structure is a bit awkward, taking away some of the drama in the story.  An adult Dito (Robert Downey Jr., A Scanner Darkly, The Shaggy Dog) narrates the LIFE-CHANGING SUMMER while going on a trip back to Astoria to see his sick father.  At some point, Dito left New York and never came back.  The specific reason why is unclear until the end of the film.  Montiel jumps back and forth, revealing pieces that should be left hidden until later for dramatic effect.  He sucks much of the life out of the film, leaving the viewer with the intense performances.
The acting is where A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints excels.  Dito, Antonio, and their friends seem like a victim of circumstance.  They may try as hard as they can to move up, but they still remain in the same circle of violence.  Dito realizes that Antonio is a dead end, and tries to do something about it.  Tatum's filmography to date has revolved around fluff.  Here, he gives an electrifying performance.  It is also Lebouf's most substantial role to date (as he slowly moves away from Disney Channel fare).  Palminteri, Downey, and Rosario Dawson (Clerks II, Rent) also give strong performances in smaller roles.  Everybody seems like they are about to explode, and when they finally do, the different emotions come flying out of them at the same time
Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, sexuality, and drug use.

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