If you’ve never heard of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, then you weren’t alone when the film received a short theatrical release in 2006 and a quick DVD outing in 2008. Now, with the film’s stars, Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBeouf, thrust into the spotlight due to their recent roles as a superhero and the son of Indiana Jones, First Look Studios has opted to re-release their single disc DVD edition in new steelbook packaging. Sadly nothing is different on this release, but the new packaging (and low MSRP) may draw a few more into this film that previously looked the other way when it littered rental store used shelves.
A coming-of-age drama bout writer/director Dito Montiel’s youth, the film captures the mid-1980s in the toughest neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Dito (Robert Downey Jr.), called home after 15 years because his father (Chazz Palminteri) is ill, encounters old friends – the ones he lost, the ones he left behind, the ones he can’t help but remember. These are Dito’s “saints.” An honest account of a bittersweet return to a neighborhood where relationships can never be what they once were, Dito’s story is about coming to terms with a father’s rage and a father’s love.
I’m one of the few people who actually paid attention to this film when I was perusing the local used selection at Hollywood Video. I’d heard of it previously and the buzz around it was relatively strong, so during one of their buy so many DVDs and get so many free deals, I threw this in the pile of films to buy and subsequently leave on my shelf and ignore. Months went by before I finally popped this film in and when I did, I was genuinely surprised by how good it was. Generally speaking First Look Studio’s films aren’t of the highest quality and are usually the type of thing you’d sooner ignore than watch.
Still, I’d become quite the fan of Downey (before the general public became a fan of him again; I saw him in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and knew I wanted to see more of his stuff) and I also enjoyed LaBeouf as well (again, before he blew up—his show on Disney channel was quite entertaining), so for that reason alone I picked this film up. And honestly it’s their performances, combined with Rosario Dawson and Channing Tatum, that really make this film as strong as it is. It also helps that it’s based off of director Dito Montiel’s youth, so it has a certain “real” factor to it that makes it feel all the more…well, real.
It’s really quite an engaging and interesting film and although the frequent time shifts can become a bit cumbersome at times, every interaction the characters have with one another is absolutely terrific. What’s even more impressive is that this was the director’s debut, so he definitely came out of the gate with a strong performance. The writing and directing are really quite good, with none of the dialogue coming off as contrived. Again, it’s really remarkable that something this came out of a first time director, but I suppose when you direct what you know it’s kind of hard to screw it up.
There’s a lot to enjoy and take in with this film and there aren’t any elements of it I’d change. It’s a relatively straightforward film in terms of storytelling, but I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would and that’s really in part to how well the story was constructed and how well every role in the film acted was. I could praise it all day, but A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is probably one of the better coming-of-age drama’s I’ve yet to see.
Overall this film really does get better with repeat viewings, as you can fully construct the story in your head the second time around and see where the film winds around. It’s still a pleasant first viewing, but subsequent trips with this film really make it all the stronger. Recommended.
Don’t be fooled. Despite a fancy new packaging and disc art, the “Additional Never Before Seen Material” tag on the back of the box, which wasn’t on the previous release, actually means nothing. This disc is the exact same print that was released in 2008, so those who already have it will have no reason to pick this one up (unless you’re a Steelbook fan—but I’m continually confused by First Look’s insistence in putting films out in Steelbook and have no idea why they keep doing this).
Video for the film is the usual interlaced transfer and I’m still confused as to why First Look can’t use progressive transfers, but whatever. It’s a fair transfer with a dialogue driven DD 5.1 mix that stays in the front channels for the most part. English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The full list of extras, again, identical to the previous release, are as follows:
Director and Editor Commentary
Alternate Opening and Endings (13:30) w/ optional commentary by director Dito Montiel
Deleted Scenes (19:20) w/ optional commentary by director Dito Montiel
Making of Doucmentary (20:10)
Rooftop Scene (6:02) w/ optional commentary by director Dito Montiel
Full Monty Interview (1:33)
Young Laurie Interview (1:52)
It’s a fair collection of extras and one that definitely rivals other First Look outings (as they’re usually barebones). Still, the construction of the menus and the navigation of the extras is a bit shady; the red menu font is kind of garish and it makes it hard to see what you’ve selected. Not a huge deal, but they could’ve fixed it up for this re-release.
Overall this is the same as the previous release, just with fancy new packaging. Previous owners need not worry, but newcomers should pick it up. Recommended.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints arrives on DVD in Steelbook packaging on February 3rd.