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by Mick Lloyd Owen & r & & r & A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t might be user error, but the guide didn't help me. I still don't recognize my saints. At least, not based on this story.





The debut film by director Dito Montiel is supposedly autobiographical, though no doubt with artistic liberties taken. It's set in a tough, seedy New York neighborhood during the mid-1980s. The young Dito (Shia LaBeouf) is emotionally simmering in an environment that is monotonously chaotic, dreaming of escape with a newfound friend. He's trying to figure out if he actually loves his Latin girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and whether his violent cohorts are true friends, or chains to a pathetic existence that he should abandon. His father (Chazz Palminteri) doesn't want him to leave, but is it love or control? These are all questions that the adult Dito (Robert Downey Jr.) is still wrestling with when he returns to the familiar streets of his youth after a long absence.





Montiel gets credit for drawing a strong performance from the entire cast. The dialogue is snappy and the emotional scenes are intense. (One has to wonder if New Yorkers really do all talk at once, ending in a crescendo of expletives.) If the adult versions of the characters seem underdeveloped, however, it's because too much reel time is taken up with teenage drama. Downey's role actually seems diminutive, and Rosaria Dawson, billed as the female lead, has scant few minutes onscreen.





The director also employs some iffy devices to bridge the gap between present and past, such as superimposing the character's memory of a conversation onto the actual dialogue, as well as some choppy, stylized editing. Perhaps this was intended to reflect the vagaries of memory, but I found them distracting.





Overall, the movie evokes a raw, credible realism, and it provokes thought as to what might have been. I'd like to see what Montiel could do with somebody else's story. But I shouldn't need to rely upon a film's title to get closure -- had the title not been floating around in my head during the closing credits, I'd still be wondering.

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