Robert Downey Jr. Stars In "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints"
By Francesca Wodtke
Downey’s cocaine-fueled, .357 Magnum-toting past is no secret. But that past is also what makes him such a convincing bad boy in “A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints,” a movie about working-class Queens in the 1980s, based on the eponymous memoir by author—and now writer/director—Dito Montiel.
In an on-set interview, Downey, who is also a co-producer of the film, explains what drew him to undertake the project: “It really comes down to this book. It’s kind of a series of brilliant, disjointed vignettes. I saw that there was a real voice in [the book],” explained Downey. Montiel’s voice is “very raw, but he’s a very evolved guy.”
The movie took root in a rare lets-do-it moment. After a book reading in Los Angeles, Downey fell in love with Montiel’s memoir—he approached Montiel to discuss a potential movie deal.
Opening Sept. 29, and directed by Montiel, the semi-autobiographical movie charts the coming-of-age story of Dito, a kid growing up in Astoria—among thugs, gangs, and mafiosos. In the vein of Scorsese’s classic Mean Streets, the socially and racially charged movie charts what happens when you leave hell in your wake, and the cost you pay when you return. In the summer of ’86, the young Dito, played by Shia LaBeouf, gets swept up in a wave of graffiti wars, gang violence, drugs, sex, murder, and suicide. By summer’s end, beaten and bloodied to a pulp, he escapes to Los Angeles, leaving behind a furious father (Chazz Palminteri) and a devastated mother (Dianne Wiest).
Fifteen years later, an older and wiser Dito, played by Downey, is summoned home to take his ailing and estranged father to the hospital. He learns what became of his deadbeat friends—and Dito, in a telling parallel with Downey, considers the world he narrowly escaped. He also confronts his ex, played by Rosario Dawson, who gives a stellar performance as a strong woman who stands up to her environment.
The movie seethes with raw energy and nostalgia—the lost, too-tough world of pre-gentrified Queens, the complexities of growing up in a neighborhood impossibly broken, and the alliances that form within ragged, lethal surroundings where nothing gives.