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When I first heard that Dito Montiel would be directing the film version of his auto-biography, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, I thought "Who the heck is Dito Montiel?" I then began to ponder the resulting motion picture. It had the potential to wind up a pretentious mess. How many worthwhile auto-biographical flicks have you seen? Many of my doubts for the project were quietened when I read the list of performers involved; Robert Downey Jr., Chazz Palminterim Shia LeBeouf and Rosario Dawson. At that point, it became something I knew I wanted to see. The multiple Sundance Film Festival awards didn't hurt either.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Now a grown man and a success elsewhere, Dito Montiel (Robert Downey Jr.) returns home to Queens to visit his sick father (Chazz Palminteri) and several childhood friends. The catch is that Dito hasn't been home or spoken to anyone in fifteen years. A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints takes a hard look at why Dito left his friends and family, why he returned and how they receive him once he returns. It's equal parts coming-of-age and going-back-home.

I found myself captivated by Montiel's use of the dual-story format. As an audience, we're always left trying to figure out how the past could possibly unfold to result in the present and at the same time, we're left wondering how the present is going to conclude itself. This is a prime example of just how unconventional a film Saints is. Another enjoyable moment of unconventionality involved the entire cast of youngsters turning to the camera mid-film and individually telling the audience something deeply revealing about themselves. I'm convinced several of the characters confessed things that they, in the story, weren't even aware of themselves. It's an odd moment.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Shia LaBeouf and Robert Downey Jr. play Montiel at different ages in his life and do so amazingly well. Their performances are similar enough that through even the slightest mannerisms, you can tell they're both the same person. It's a testament to great acting. The entire cast works hard to sell the material and give it a wholly organic feel. There are no polished exchanges here, the lines aren't witty or even well-phrased. The performers often mumble them out and unnecessarily repeat themselves to give the film a realistic and unscripted edge. It's no wonder as to why the picture took home the 'Best Ensemble' Sundance Award in 2006.

The entire production is all the more impressive when you consider that this is Dito Montiel's first writing and directing experience. He has a strong grip on the film he's crafting and employs an array of unusual techniques to tell the story. For instance, he continually blurs the line between spoken dialogue and spoken inner-monologue just as he continually distorts the audience's perception of a scene by blackening out the video or audio as he sees fit. Both of these devices work well to heighten the film's dramatic impact.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
In the end, I have only good things to say about Saints. The film has a magnificent story and I'm now interested in reading the autobiography that inspired it. First-time director Dito Montiel brings a remarkably original vision to the screen through a slew of irregular methods and his cast is first-rate. If you're in the mood for a gripping true-story drama, I whole-heartedly and readily recommend this film to you.

Video


The feature is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I wouldn't have expected such an evidently low-budget production to have a transfer this clean. The image is satisfiably sharp and free of blemishes. There were very few times where I thought I spotted dirt or grit in the picture, but it was likely I was just seeing New York the way Dito Montiel wanted me to see it; oppressive and grimy. Saints gets good marks in the video department.

Audio


The disc includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Set on the streets of Queens, you can bet that there's always something to hear on the 5.1 track. New York practically comes alive just as it should. The jumbled dialogue and vintage soundtrack tunes sound excellent. Saints has been given a fine audio treatment.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Extras


I found the meat of the bonus materials to be the marvelous audio commentary track. It features writer/director Dito Montiel and Editor Jake Pushinsky. Montiel carries the track and his passion for the project comes across loud and clear. As if the film didn't make me want to read the book enough, the commentary track only furthered my curiosity on the source material.

Next up we have a twenty minute featurette on the production. While it plays like your standard EPK-style piece, interviewing most of the principal cast and crew on their experience, it's not half as dull and un-provoking as the typical EPK featurette. If you really want to learn about the film, I'd recommend the commentary over this.

Also included on the disc are a large handful of deleted/alternate scenes, most of which seemed to have been excised for good reason. They include several alternate beginnings, a decent alternate ending and an extended interview with the real life father of Dito Montiel. Rounding out the disc are trailers for both this film and others from First Look Home Entertainment as well as a screen test for actress Diana Carcamo.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Overall


On the whole, I felt A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints was an outstanding directorial début for Dito Montiel and he should be very proud of his effort. The film is an unflinching look at how troubled family life can be in a place as oppressive at New York. The technical presentation of the disc is very satisfying as are the supplemental materials included. I give this disc a well-deserved 8/10 rating.


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