• Film

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints


Time Out says

Adapted from his own memoir, Dito Montiel’s loosely fictionalised account of his mid-’80s adolescence in Astoria, Queens is a rough ’n’ tumble slice of hard-knock life set on similarly smart-mouthed, two-fisted, rock-scored territory to those other paeans to bridge-and-tunnel youth, ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Saturday Night Fever’.

Now a successful writer, the adult Dito (Robert Downey Jr) is summoned home from California for the first time in 15 years when his father (Chazz Palminteri) suffers a serious illness. Things don’t go too smoothly with the old man, Mom (Dianne Wiest) is chipper but struggling and the old gang – those that are still around – don’t look so hot either. Soon Dito’s mind spools back to that sweltering summer of ’86… The meat of the story, told in flashback, concerns young Dito (Shia LaBoeuf), his wised-up girl Laurie (Melonie Diaz), hot-headed pal Antonio (Channing Tatum) and new kid Mike (Martin Compston), a Scottish ex-pat. Dito’s choice is which of their sensibilities, if any, to subscribe to.

Despite uniformly strong performances – Downey is just about the most pleasurably watchable actor in America right now – the framing story here feels somewhat superfluous, especially when Montiel and editors Jake Pushinsky and Chris Tellefsen have constructed an impressively impressionistic film grammar to evoke a sense of memory in operation for the flashbacks: characters break off to address the camera (‘Hi, my name is Diane and I like to fuck’), snatches of screenplay are glimpsed on screen and the sound design occasionally splits conversations between synched speech and floating voiceover or music. It’s an approach that flirts with pretension but, sparingly deployed, conveys a strong sense of the story as a subjectively remembered thing patched together, selectively and almost inevitably self-servingly, from afar – a rare, welcome acknowledgement.

Overall, though, the style is sweatily naturalistic, making good use of cramped interiors and street locations (including rooftops and railway lines) and never labouring the period setting. The prevalent pressure is anti-aspirationalism: to Dito’s dad, visiting Manhattan is uppity, let alone California; the rest of the world – as represented by Compston’s Mike, with his nonchalant openness to novelty – might as well be on Mars. The sense of blinkered inwardness is also flagged up in the series of semi-wilful miscommunications that pepper the script (Mike is constantly referred to as Irish, for instance). The plot itself might not break much new ground, but the telling, by both cast and crew, makes this a memoir to remember.

Release Details

  • Rated:15
  • Release date:Friday 2 March 2007
  • Duration:98 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Dito Montiel
  • Screenwriter:Dito Montiel
  • Cast:
    • Robert Downey Jr
    • Dianne Wiest
    • Shia LaBeouf
    • Rosario Dawson
    • Channing Tatum
    • Chazz Palminteri
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