The Films of Dito Montiel
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (March 18/07)
Though infused with an evocative and downright authentic vibe by first-time filmmaker Dito Montiel, A Guide to Recognizing Yours Saints is ultimately undone by Montiel's relentlessly ostentatious sense of style - to the extent that it becomes increasingly difficult to genuinely care about the plight of any of the movie's many characters. Based on the director's real-life experiences, the film follows an adult Montiel (Robert Downey Jr) as he reminisces on his tumultuous teen years - where he (Shia LaBeouf) and his friends (including Channing Tatum's Antonio) are perpetually on the verge of either being beaten halfway to death or sent to prison. Montiel's use of various cinematic tricks - including grainy, jittery camerawork and disorienting editing techniques - ultimately transforms what should have been a gritty little coming-of-age story into a fairly interminable experience, and although there's certainly no faulting the actors, the relentlessly unpleasant vibe virtually negates its few positive attributes.
Filmmaker Dito Montiel's follow-up to A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Fighting follows scrappy street hustler Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) as he's lured into New York City's underground fighting scene by a seasoned scam artist (Terrence Howard's Harvey Boarden) - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around Shawn's efforts at landing bigger, more lucrative fights (as well as his ongoing attempts at wooing Zulay Henao's Zulay). Despite the utterly (and hopelessly) routine nature of its storyline, Fighting - armed with a typically idiosyncratic performance from Howard - generally does an effective job of sustaining the viewer's interest through its unapologetically repetitive opening hour. It's ironically worth noting, however, that the movie is at its worst during its fight scenes, as Montiel's inexplicable use of aggressively hyperactive visual tricks (ie extreme close-ups, rapid-fire editing, impossibly shaky camerawork, etc) transforms the majority of such moments into a meaningless jumble of images. And while there is admittedly one exception to this - Shawn's battle with Cung Le's Dragon has been infused with appreciative bursts of slow-motion cinematography - the relentlessly inept nature of what should have been the film's highlight eventually proves too much for the remainder of the proceedings to bear. The oppressive lull in the build-up to the final confrontation - as Montiel and co-writer Robert Munic emphasize Shawn's eye-rollingly dull relationship with Zulay - ensures that Fighting is destined to disappoint viewers hoping for an enthralling bit of brawl-centric entertainment, with the final realization that the total number of mano-e-mano confrontations add up to a paltry four (and about ten minutes worth of screen time) cementing the film's place as an utterly worthless endeavor.
The Son of No One
The Son of No One follows New York City cop Jonathan White (Channing Tatum) as he's assigned to a precinct within the lower-class neighborhood in which he was raised, with the film detailing the turmoil that ensues for Jonathan after a childhood secret threatens to come to light. Filmmaker Dito Montiel has infused The Son of No One with a pervasively somber tone that does, initially, seem to hold some promise, with the low-key vibe matched by an unusually subtle performance from star Tatum and an overall emphasis on gritty authenticity (ie Montiel has long-since established his willingness to capture NYC's seedy underbelly). It becomes increasingly clear, however, that lying at the movie's core is a mystery that couldn't possibly be less interesting, with the less-than-engrossing nature of Jonathan's investigation compounded by Montiel's reliance on dull flashbacks and aggressively deliberate pacing. The inclusion of a few jolts here and there - eg a prisoner grabs an officer's gun within a busy precinct - can't quite compensate for an otherwise disastrously tedious atmosphere, and it is, as a result, impossible to work up any enthusiasm for the central character's continuing exploits. It's a shame, really, as Montiel has assembled an admittedly impressive roster of supporting performers, with the cast including such notable names as Al Pacino, Ray Liotta, Juliette Binoche, and Tracy Morgan. (The latter is surprisingly convincing as a morose figure from Jonathan's past.) The end result is yet another ineffective endeavor from a curiously incompetent filmmaker, with Montiel's ongoing ability to receive funding for his efforts nothing short of head-scratching.