Last night I watched my most recent arrival from Netflix, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints." Yes, it is a long title for a movie.
I am not sure how this film wound up on my Netflix queue. I may have read about it in Entertainment Weekly, I may have noticed Channing Tatum showing off his abs on the movie poster, or Netflix may have listed it as "Movies We Think You'll Enjoy." No matter, it arrived and I popped it into the DVD player.
After 98 minutes (that felt like 3 hours) the film ended and I wanted to scream! How could I have just wasted the last hour and a half on such a piece of garbage? The film was frenetic, lacking a clear direction, extremely raw, gritty and violent, and had a resolution that left me feeling depressed.
Rather than give up on the DVD completely, I decided to check out the special features. As my loyal readers know, my mother is obsessed with watching DVD special features, and her habit has rubbed off on me.
Never have I been happier that I watched the special features! In the 30 minute "Making Of" feature, the producers, writer and director, and most of the actors share their experiences working on the film. Through the "Making Of" interviews I learned that the film is based on the real life experiences of Dito Montiel, a man who grew up on the crime ridden streets of Astoria, Queens, fighting for his life and struggling to maintain a relationship with his parents.
Dito wrote about his life in a book called "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints." A collection of stories describing the people that protected him during the most dangerous years of his childhood. In real life, Dito met actor Robert Downey Jr., who was moved by the story and encouraged him to make it into a film.
Trudie Styler, also known as Sting's wife, came on as a producer. She too was moved by Dito's story. The team tried to help Dito turn his short stories into a linear, well planned, movie script. What they discovered was, they couldn't tell the story cleanly and wrap it up with a bow at the end. Dito's real life experience was messy, ugly and disjointed.
In the film Shia LaBeouf plays the young Dito. I am not a Shia fan, so I was annoyed with him most of the movie. However, during the special features I learned Dito didn't want to cast him either! Hurrah, we agree! But he said Shia begged him to let him submit an audition tape, and he was actually rather impressed.
Dito wrote and directed the movie, helping the actors to channel the characters of his past. My favorite is Dito's childhood friend Scottish Mike. He seems to be the bright spot in Dito's otherwise dark and stormy life. In the special features you learn he was actually Irish Mike, but Trudie Styler pushed for a great, young Scottish actor to play him and Dito agreed and made the change.
After listening to all the cast and crew interviews I found myself viewing the film in a completely different light. Now that I understood the vision, where the story came from and how they decided to bring it to life on camera, I actually found it kind of beautiful. There is something about exposing people's raw emotion, just as it is, no air brushing or manipulating that is both painful and exquisite.
If you can handle the in-your-face truth, I recommend renting the film and learning from Dito's story.