Perhaps the world doesn't need another story of kids 'coming up' hard on the streets of New York, but A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints hits harder than most. Robert Downey Jr stars as writer Dito Montiel who also directs this adaptation of his same-titled memoir. It positively crackles with energy, featuring startlingly raw performances from a cast that also includes Shia LaBeouf as the young Dito. And if it looks ragged around the edges, that's as it should be.
Montiel's freewheeling style is initially a little disorientating, fracturing the past and present with no obvious sense of where the story is going. Soon enough though, it takes shape with the teenage Dito being unwillingly drawn into a culture of violence by his self-destructive buddy Antonio. Channing Tatum is eye-catching in the role, scratching an itch that was probably left by having to wear tights in Step Up. He lashes out like a broken power cable.
The performances are electrifying all round. Apart from a few intrusive flourishes, Montiel allows emotion to build like a pile of bricks that could topple at any minute and finally does when the grownup Dito confronts his family after a 15-year absence. Unfortunately Montiel doesn't delve into why and how he could have stayed away for so long. However, a doorstep tête-à-tête between Downey and the brilliant Dianne Wiest will chime with anyone who has a mother and as Dito's no-nonsense dad, Chazz Palminteri has some great moments too (if a little showy). Tender as it is brutal, Saints touches rarely scaled heights.
A Guide To Recognising Your Saints is released in UK cinemas on Friday 2nd March 2007.