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DVD Review: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints – Limited Edition

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It’s not surprising that A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is getting a DVD re-release less than two years after the initial release hit shelves. The 2006 Sundance hit (it won Best Ensemble and Best Director) never reached much of an audience, only playing in 60 theaters at its widest release, and its original DVD run probably didn’t do much better.

Normally, I wouldn’t look too favorably on a re-release that doesn’t include any additional content, but if this one introduces more people to A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, it’ll be worthwhile.

Written and directed by Dito Montiel, Saints is based on his own book of the same name. It recounts his coming-of-age in the rough neighborhoods of Astoria, Queens, and his subsequent return home 20 years later.

Despite a script that leaves a few things to be desired, and doesn’t probe as deeply in some areas as I’d like, the film earned its Sundance awards with a cast full of surprising performances and a crackling direction style that fits the material perfectly.As ambivalent as I am about Shia LeBeouf’s work in general, he carries Saints most of the way through as young Dito Montiel – he’s extremely effective at communicating his growing disillusionment with the lifestyle his neighborhood perpetuates simply through his distant eyes.

The real breakout star of the film, though, is Channing Tatum, proving some serious acting chops with his raw, intense portrayal of Antonio, Dito’s violent friend. The rest of the cast performs marvelously as expected, with veterans like Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest and Rosario Dawson all bringing the right emotions to the table.

Robert Downey Jr. feels a little underused as the adult Dito, and the way the film treats the present time is probably my biggest beef with Saints. We don’t get enough of Dito’s interactions with his father and Antonio in the present time, despite the implication that these two violent men had a profound impact on him.

Still, there’s a sense of pulsating energy driving the film that makes it hard to resist. Montiel’s direction is experimental without being pretentious – elements such as the nonlinear structure and frequent breaking of the fourth wall work perfectly.

The limited edition DVD simply carries over the special features from the original release – the only addition is several trailers promoting other limited edition DVDs from First Look Studios.

Extras include a feature-length commentary with Montiel, deleted and alternate scenes, a making-of featurette and several other bits of extra material, including footage of an interview with the real Monty Montiel, Dito’s father.

The main difference is the limited edition’s Steelbook packaging. It certainly looks nice, but unless you’re a collector of the packaging, not a real reason to upgrade or choose this version over the older one.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is not totally emotionally satisfying, but it’s well worth a viewing. It’ll be interesting to see what Montiel’s next project – Fighting, starring Tatum again, and scheduled to release in April – has in store for audiences.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
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