Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Shia LaBeouf, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum
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.
I was surprised when I saw that the director of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was also the author of the novel the film is based on. This is a pretty big gamble as, on the one hand, who could better capture the appropriate tone and feel of the film than the man who penned the story as his memoir, but on the other, the guy was not a film director. He is now, in more than even the technical sense, having gone on to direct another film, but it’s a lucky thing that he actually had the talent to know what the hell he was doing, or this film could have been painful instead of brilliant.
Dito Montiel grew up in Queens, New York during the Eighties, and this is his story. The plot isn’t particularly complex, a coming of age tale of a kid who was maybe a little too civilized to flourish in the outer boroughs, but it’s a noteworthy piece of storytelling all the same. Filled with realistic vignettes and hand-held camera shots, the film rings true even for someone who grew up on the wide beaches of Florida instead of the graffiti-covered streets of Queens. That this is a work of heart is evident in every shot, every turn of phrase, and first time out or not, Montiel has put the whole thing together beautifully.
The acting is so superior here that it would be overkill if it wasn’t, well, so incredibly good, everyone in the film turning in such a good performance that it’s really not fair to set any one or two people apart. You expect stellar acting from the older hands, but the younger generation is every bit as terrific. Every, single role seems imbued with love for the project.
I wouldn’t have guessed that someone so new to filmmaking could turn out such a luminous piece of work, but I’m happy to admit I’m wrong. This was a wonderful film, and well worth watching.