Even the Puerto Ricans listen to Journey

At last year's Sundance Festival, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints won the awards for Best Director and Best Ensemble cast. Cool, right? It wasn't released theatrically until November, and only on a handful of screens, making about half a million dollars. Just for the sake of perspective, Norbit scored $34 in its opening weekend. The cast list isn't A-list admittedly, but it certainly isn't shabby - Robert Downey Jr, Rosario Dawson, Chazz Palminteri, Shia LaBeouf and Channing Tatum from 'Step Up'. And, weirdly, Sting and Sting's wife get producer credits. Wha?

It's based on the book of the same name by Dito Montiel, who also got behind the camera. His direction is confident - the story shifts semi-successfully between young Dito (LaBeouf) and twenty years later Dito (Iron Man Downey), and there are some nice cutaways, a few lines spoken directly to camera, and some nice first person insights. The look and feel of Astoria, Queens, in the mid-80s is well captured, the performances are solid, and you really get sucked into caring about what happens to Dito, especially around his stifling dad and overbearing best friend.

The main beef critics seem to have with the film is the lack of originality - and it's true. For me, the film comes across somewhere between Scorcese's Mean Streets and Singleton's Boyz N the Hood. But, to be fair, people like Scorcese and Spike Lee have immortalized New York in their time, they've made it their own. It seems unfair to criticize Montiel for telling his own story. The themes of family and friendship framed within racial unrest and general inner city boredom and decline will always be worth telling, and it's a fine effort from a first time filmmaker. Check it out on DVD.

Also, Dito Montiel is interviewed in the latest episode of the Guardian's Film Weekly, which as I've said before, is excellent.


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