A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

A little ‘been there, done that’ but offers such commendable performances, heart-rending moments and so beautifully captures the ever-so-present broken tie that can exist between a father and son, that it shouldn’t be dismissed.


Chazz Palminteri, Shia LaBeouf, Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, Robert Downey, Jr

The Downey Jr autobiography perhaps? Something encompassing sordid tales of one snorting coke off hooker’s chests, forcing Molly Ringwald into downing flaming sambucas with him on the set of “The Pick-Up Artist”, and climbing into strangers beds for forty winks when nobody’s home? – No, but damn good title for a movie that’s got Robert Downey Jnr Post-Boozehound in it, don’t ya think?

The angels have definitely been smiling down on Downey Jr over the last couple of years. Just when it looked like he’d burnt his last bridge with that infamous “Ally McBeal” firing a couple of years back, he bounced back – Sober as a nun – to great acclaim in such gems as “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, “The Singing Detective” and “Good Night and Good Luck”. (He’s even managing to take some nice cash-over-credibility gigs like the one in “The Shaggy Dog” remake). Having truly now recognized his “Saints”, he seems hell-bent on staying where he is (that’d be the top, as one of today’s most popular actors) if only because Johnny Depp’s a step below on the ladder ready to snap up that circlet whenever he falls again. Which, we hope, he won’t. Because he’s just so damn good.

Though “Saints” isn’t so much a vehicle for the star, as it is the writer/director (Dito Montiel), Downey Jr is again grand in it. And what’s fabulous about this one is that it’s such a small role – both in scale and stateliness – that it again leaves us with the incapacity to peg the guy. Like a new father feeding a hungry bub, he’s constantly surprising.

Based on the memoirs of real-lifer Dito Montiel, the film, re-told in flashback, chronicles the rearing of a young man in Astoria N.Y and most significantly, the summer of 1986 when Dito and his three buddies cruised the mean streets, nearly under the Hellsgate Bridge, looking for tail and trouble. Like the others, Dito (Shia LeBeouf) dreams of living New York one day, but his small-minded father (Chazz Palminteri) has him believing that there is no world outside of city limits.

Meantime, the older Dito (Downey Jr) plots his homecoming – 15 years after he left New York – to see his ailing father.

“Saints” is a film you’ve seen before – even recently, with David Duchovny’s homecoming tale “House of D”, playing on the same band – but like any good coming-of-age tale, it knows exactly how to keep a viewer firmly fixated on the screen and not so much on the illuminated exit sign: interesting characters, good ol’ music tunes, plenty of emotion, and lots of tender moments.

The performances are grand, especially from Wiest and Palminteri, who are absolutely marvellous and insolently credible in their roles. Newcomer Channing Tatum (last seen smooching Amanda Bynes, whilst a ‘Veronicas’ track is overlayed over the action, in teen-com “She’s the Man”) is brilliant in his career-making role of the misunderstood rough nut, Antonio. And Rosario Dawson, though barely in the film, again shows her versatility by following up her sweet but cheeky role in the rowdy comedy “Clerks II” with a tender, very pragmatic, turn here as Dito’s love interest. Downey Jr, though slightly wasted in such a small role, is also good.

The only off element of the casting is Shia LeBeouf. Though he’s quite good, and never skips a beat, he just doesn’t seem right for the lead role. Either the young actor has played roles too similar in the past (it does share similarities with his characters in “Holes” and “The Battle of Shaker Heights”, I suppose) or he’s just not believable as a messed up – and you don’t imagine him growing up to look like Downey Jr for that matter – 80s street kid. One thing’s for sure, he looks as out of place as an AFL football jersey at a Penrith game. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very good, but a fresh face might have pulled you into his world a little easier.

There are a further couple of flaws to the film: one, the fact that we have seen this tale time and time again, and two, the fact that the intercutting of the scenes set in the ‘past’ don’t mesh too well with the scenes of ‘the present’ – in fact, whenever we return to the present, we’re almost taken away from the picture. A narration might have worked better, because it’s the action of the ‘old days’ that is the pics heartbeat. It might also have helped if we had ‘felt’ for the lead character a little more – hard to say whether that’s the fault of LeBeouf of Montiel – and really rooted for him.

“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” is a little ‘been there, done that’ but offers such commendable performances, heart-rending moments and so beautifully captures the ever-so-present broken tie that can exist between a father and son, that it shouldn’t be dismissed.

Rating :
Reviewer : Clint Morris