A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a coming of age film, written and directed by the main charater it is based on, Dito Montiel. The film is also based on the book, also written by Dito Montiel. It is about a group of friends growing up in a rough area and their struggle to just survive there, never mind making something of their lives. However, Dito has a dream of going to California, which after a tragic series of events he carries out. The film also follows Dito’s return to his old friends and old neighbourhood almost 20 years since saying goodbye.
I am not a fan of Shia LaBeouf, i don’t like him, he is not a convincing actor in my eyes and that is no different here. How they cast him to be the young Dito when the older Dito is played by the brilliantly charismatic Robert Downey Jr. is beyond me, but this was not the only surprise casting.
Channing Tatum plays Dito’s friend Antonio, whom struggles with his home life as his father beats him and as such is always up for a fight with anyone who challenges him or his friends out on the street. Despite the seemingly meat headed role this is, there are some genuinely tender moments with his younger brother and Dito’s family. This is where Tatum truly delivers and shows that he can genuinely act when given a meaty role. Alas, where the casting was messed up for young Dito, the casting for current day Antonio is an odd choice. How Tatum, after 20 years would look anything like Eric Roberts is beyond me, nothing against Roberts, but this fact, combined with the phoned in performance from Roberts just took me out of the film.
Chazz Palminteri is fantastic as Dito’s father, who, like most fathers in their sons eyes, prefers their sons friends to their actual son. He gives a great performance throughout the entire film, and is especially convincing when confronting his son, both young and old.
The rest of the cast do surprisingly solid jobs, but as i said, LaBeouf was my biggest gripe in the acting department.
As i said earlier, Dito Montiel both wrote and directed this film. This was his first film in both respects and for a first time directing job it was pretty middle of the road. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing hugely wrong with it but it wasn’t exactly genre changing work either.
The shots are handled in a straight forward way with no particular flair or style. In fact in some of the quieter, talking scenes i noticed a slight jerk of the camera ever so often which was incredibly distracting, whether this was done on purpose or not i do not know but it made the film seem like it was being filmed on a handicam or something of the sort with no proper support or whatever, very amateurish.
Another problem i had with the film was that the flashbacks were very inconsistent, sometimes i wouldn’t realise that we were in a flashback until Shia LaBeouf showed up on screen, which is confusing when you think you are following a certain timeline and are suddenly told, this is a different time line. Montiel could definitely have made the transitions clearer, again, i don’t know whether this was done on purpose or is just the case of sloppy editing/directing.
The story is extremely solid, the acting, save LaBeouf, ranged from good to fantastic. However i would have liked to have seen more of current day Dito, as Downey Jr. was so great, but i guess there was nowhere else they could have took the story.
The directing is often sloppy and is nothing game changing, but for a first time job and for this gritty film it sort of compliments the film. There is also a fantastic score that is used so subtly that it is barely noticeable yet it compliments the scenes fantastically.
Overall i would definitely recommend you watching this film, especially if you are a fan of any of the actors in the film. Everyone should see this film at least once, but don’t put it top priority, there are better films out there. If you are bored one evening and want to watch a good film that isn’t too taxing on the brain, put this on, sit back and enjoy for the 95 minutes it is on, i would also recommend staying throughout the credits to see a genuine scene of Dito’s real father talking about Antonio, it is touching.