Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A GUIDE TO RECOGNISING YOUR SAINTS - six reasonably interesting characters in search of a plot

This review is posted by guest reviewer Nik, who can usually be found here.

I just went to the Barbican Cinema website to look up the name of the film I am reviewing. That's not a good start my friends. A Guide to Recognising Your Saints is a film set on the tough, mean streets of New York where four boys, including our lead character Dito (played by Shia LaBeouf), have to live and survive - grow up and learn how to be men. But after all that's said, this film is really about Dito's personal voyage in managing his relationships with his friends, his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson), and ultimately his love-hate struggle with his father (Chaz Plaminteri). And isn't that the universal story?

Well, no, it's not the universal story unless you bother to inject a plot, which director Dito Montiel conspicuously fails to do - conspicuous given that the film is supposed to be autobiographical. 98 minutes I sat there, curtain went up, popcorn went down, that's all that fucking happened. Even sporadically good acting from the likes of Martin Compston for example (playing Mike, a young Scottish lad who befriends Dito) cannot save the movie - mainly due to the fact that the script is pretty patchy, and that nothing actually happens.

Worse, the characters aren't even all that entertaining. The main character Dito, in both young and old (Robert Downey Junior) forms, fails to inspire anything but ire from the audience, as he whines and angsts like a girl about his life - and consistently makes blonde decisions and comments. Furthermore, the cinematography, which the brochure handed to me as I entered the cinema informed me was "experimental", just jarred - and the little "artistic" touches (like each character introducing themselves to camera during the film) were insulting and facile.

I've panned this one, and rightly. There were few saving graces, the movie was boring, poorly scripted, up itself, and completely without merit either as art or entertainment. The best that can be said is that it was slightly better than Epic Movie, which has now replaced Analyse That as my baseline for shite. Save your money. Stay away.

A GUIDE TO RECOGNISING YOUR SAINTS played Venice and Sundance 2006 where it won the Best Director (Drama) and a Special Jury Prize for the Ensemble Cast. It was released in the US and Australia in 2006 and in Turkey in 2007. It opens in the UK today and in Greece next week. It is available on Region 1 DVD.


  1. I am Flint and I whole heartedly disagree with this review. I thought this was a great little movie with lots of very real characters dealing with very real human challenges. It hewed close to real life in its construction of those challenges, far more realistic and poignant battles of everyday life than most movies choose to deal with. I also found the central character hugely appealing as a young man (although the person he grew into is a bit harder to love) and I came out of the theatre feeling like I'd just gone for a very raw and emotional ride in someone else's adolescence. I quite the feel of the movies as well and suspect Nik might have woken up on the wrong side of the bed the day he saw this.

  2. Sorry Flint, this movie was plain awful. What was the point? Young Dito has issues with his father because his father is over-protective and he want to quit Astoria. He comes back years later and he knows his dad is very ill. He's up in his dad's face shouting Did you ever love me? What a completely nonsensical thing to say. Just plain whiny and dunder-headed. As for the rest of it, it was just one obvious apparently momentous moment after another but entirely without originality. All these visual tics and brave juxtapositions of script with visuals - too many gimmicks not enough substance. This movie just reminded me how good early Scorsese, and more recently, KIDS, were....Nik was not in a bad mood when we went into the cinema. We were both looking forward to it big time. But I wanted to leave by around half way through. People actually left the screening we were in...Still, as ever, I love movies and I love for people to enjoy them, so at least we keep up our record of NEVER agreeing on anything!
    Laters, Bina007.

  3. Flint,

    I stand by all of my comments in retrospect. This film was vacuous, poorly scripted, and boring.