A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Austin Film Festival ’06)

By  · Published on October 29th, 2006

Release Date: October 13, 2006

This directorial debut from Dito Montiel, AGTRYS as its come to be known in our short-attention spanned culture, is two movies slammed into one. The first is the early life of Dito (Shia LeBeouf) as he grows up on the mean streets of Astoria in the 1980’s. The second is a return trip home faced by an older Dito (Robert Downey, Jr.) after learning that his father has fallen ill. This tactic has worked for many films, but with AGTRYS, the end result feels like an epic novel that’s been crushed into a two-hour film, since, that’s exactly what it is.

AGTRYS adds almost nothing to the already bloated corpus of 1980’s street movies. Hyper-sexuality, drugs, and gang activity dot the piece as if they weren’t cliches. Unfortunately, despite Shia LeBeouf’s impressive skills, his Dito is about as tough as most of the costume-themed gangs in “The Warriors”. More unfortunately, Montiel peppers his fictional-movie-based-off-real-memoirs with characters talking to the camera. That’s right. Talking to the camera. The only thing more hokey would have involved the classic Zack Morris “Time out” before the monologue.

This is a movie mostly about coming to terms with your surroundings and understanding how you got there. There are some good performances coming from Chazz Palminteri and Diane Wiest, who play Dito’s parents, but for the most part, it’s young actors still trying to figure out their craft. As leading men, Shia LeBeouf does his best in a role that shouldn’t have been his and Robert Downey Jr. is too bored for the part – he chooses subtlety over acting in most every scene as if the movie were really about being cool.

With the critical acclaim that has already befallen the movie, it’s easy to see that AGTRYS will do fairly well for little to no reason. It’s a movie that some will love and others will hate. It will probably also stand as a litmus test for those who “get it” or “know good film” despite choking on its own self-indulgence. I suppose I’m just not cool enough to like this movie, but if it’s any indication as to how ego-driven this work is, the writer/director has, not one, but two main characters named after him.

With shaky camera work and every-trick-in-the-book editing, AGTRYS seems to rely more on what effects it can pull off instead of hanging its hat on good story telling and good direction. It’s a shame, too, because this film would seem truly revolutionary if it had actually invented some camera techniques or told a story that hadn’t been told before and told better.

The Upside: Chazz Palminteri and Diane Wiest.

The Downside: Take an autobiographer, give him a director’s hat, and tell him to shove how interesting his life was down the throats of the audience aided only by cheesy camera effects and without the safety net of a fourth wall. This is what you get.

On the Side: Won Dramatic Directing Award and a Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble Performance at Sundance in 2006.

Final Grade: D

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.