Dir/scr: Dito Montiel. US.2006.103mins.
Adapting his 2003 memoir of the same title, debut writer-directorDito Montiel reveals himselfas a promising new voice in American cinema with A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, a featurethat summons the sting of memory, evoked in moments simultaneously fond, joyous,bitter, sad and tragic.
Despite a problematic start -a superfluous framing device in which a contemporary Montiel(played by Downey) attends an author's reading in Los Angeles - it makes for anelectric piece of film-making with a moving depth of feeling and a highly convincingfeel for time and place.
In the US it should field severaloffers from specialised distributors, with the possibility of Sundance awards recognition(it plays in the dramatic competition). International prospects are less secure- the film is carried by its younger actors, with the established names secondary- although it should do well with sympathetic audiences in English-speaking territories.
Montiel is a natural storyteller, and his cinematic touchstonesare clearly Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Spike's Lee's DoThe Right Thing. Like those directors, Montiel anthropolises a place andtime - here it is the Astoria neighbourhood of Queens, New York in July 1985 - withan expressive sense of visual and aural sensations
Late in the film, Montiel deploys Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street the way Scorsese did Eric Clapton's Layla in Goodfellas. The movie is also set just a few years beforeLee's 1989 Do TheRight Thing, and has a charged Brechtian momentwhen the main characters similarly address the camera, revealing their name,habits or primary characteristic.
The film's plot feels loose,even improvised, and is structured around a series of vignettes about teenage amoralityand rites-of-passage experiences.
The focus is Dito (beautifully played as a young man by LaBeouf) and his friends as they hang out,get stoned and exchange crude, sexual taunts with the equally tough, if emotionallystunted, neighbourhood girls.
This is a tougher, lower middle-classversion of Barry Levinson's Diner, informedby the same insular, damaged masculinity of its characters that illustrates thedamaging implications of their refusal to grow up.
The film rests on the difficultinterior consciousness of the young men, and the conflict that develops betweenDito and his best friend, Antonio (Tatum), when Mike (Compston), a Scottish emigre andoutsider, befriends Dito.
Montiel brilliantly shows how male camaraderie, the back andforth, the tension, the excitement, even an unspoken sexual attraction, is changedby this outsider.
With their shared passion formusic, Mike represents the world outside Dito's restrictedenvironment, even that of his beautiful young girfriend,Laurie (the fantastic Diaz).
Dito's desire for escape and experience clearly alters, to theworse, his relationship with his father, Monty (Palminteri).When the adult Dito is summoned home because of his dad'sdeclining health, the two timeframes come together and Ditois painfully reminded that he remains haunted, even frozen, by the past, and theviolent events that led to his permanent departure.
The acting, particularly by theunknowns, is revealing, spontaneous and deeply moving. Playing the older neighbourhoodgirlfriend, Rosario Dawson contributes a show stopping moment during her reacquaintance with Downey that is one of the many remarkablemoments of this vibrant, moving first feature.
Shot by French cinematographerEric Gautier, a leading collaborator of Olivier Assayasand Arnaud Desplechin, Guide is grounded in a vivid sense of place. Shopfrontsand bungalows provide the physical detail that counterpoints Dito's poetic evocations of escape and release, themselves capturedin the shots of the New York subway line and the city itself.
Xingu Films Ltd
Original Media LLC
c/o Williams Morris Independent, Beverly Hills
Robert Downey Jr.
Anthony De Sando