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By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Published

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

As a die-hard film fan who goes to the theater at least once a week and watches several movies at home each week, I was shocked to have never heard of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. I happened to be working on a piece about Robert Downey Jr., so I was scanning his filmography and found this movie. I sat down to watch it after reading the description and had my mind blown.

Why is no one talking about this movie?

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was released in 2006 and was billed as a crime/thriller. I’m not sure I’d call it that. I’m not even sure I’d call it a crime drama. But I know for sure I was highly impressed by the acting portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum, Dianne Wiest, Chaz Palminteri, Rosario Dawson, and the always spectacular Shia LaBeouf. 

Originally A Memoir

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was originally a memoir written by Dito Montiel and adapted for film by the author, who also directed the movie. It’s a coming-of-age tale about a boy growing up in Astoria, New York, a rough and tumble neighborhood riddled with crime and violence.

He has clearly escaped these mean streets to have become the man he is today, but he’s reflecting on what happened to the ones he came up with, whom he now thinks of as his saints.

Heart, Soul, And Love

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

The A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints directing by Montiel is at times erratic, like a flashing lightbulb that reveals scenes of rage and violence only in snapshots. But it’s also got heart, soul, and intense love. 

The first scene of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints opens on a grown Dito reading a portion of his book for a captive audience. Downey Jr. plays this part well. He’s got an underlying sadness in him, an acceptance that he had to leave his childhood behind.

Shia LaBeouf And Channing Tatum

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

We, as the audience, then experience Dito’s flashbacks, with LaBeouf as a young Dito and Channing Tatum as his best friend, Antonio. Dito is an only child to older parents, Monty and Flori (Palminteri and Wiest), who love their son deeply but also don’t really know what to do with him. 

Throughout A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints we see young Dito trying repeatedly to tell everyone he has to get out of this neighborhood, out of this city, but no one seems to listen to him. There are senseless deaths, terrifying thugs, and the rampant racism that still ran fluidly through city streets in the ‘80s. 

Coming To Terms With Family And Friends

When we flash forward, we see the older Dito in California getting phone calls from his buddies back home in New York, and from his aged mother, urging him to return after all this time. His father has suffered a grand mal seizure. 

Now, Dito has to come to terms with the family and friends that he honored in his book so lovingly, in real life — the girl he left behind (played by Dawson), the father who no longer speaks to him, the friends that never got out. 

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints


It’s harrowing at times, riveting at others, and disturbing throughout, particularly the scenes focused on Tatum’s Antonio. I didn’t know whether to look away or stare in shock. 

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is, more than anything else, an excellent showcase of what these actors are capable of, and it gives me a new appreciation for artists I already enjoyed watching.

I give the movie 4 stars out of 5. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 76%. So we’re pretty much in agreement. 

Stream it free on Prime, Peacock, Tubi, or Freevee, or rent it on YouTube or Apple TV.