leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Scenemaker Dito Montiel's rough, grating memoir of growing up in a poor, violent section of Astoria, Queens, in the mid-1980s features a few too many arty flourishes, but also packs a raw power that's hard to shake. It begins in the present, as Dito's downtrodden mother, Flori (Dianne Wiest), leaves a quietly desperate message on his answering machine: Dito's father, tough, overbearing Monty (Chazz Palminteri) is sick and refuses to see a doctor, but he might listen to his wayward son. Dito (Robert Downey, Jr.), now a successful, Los Angeles based writer, reluctantly comes home and reconnects with the people and places that made him what he is in a series of ever-longer flashbacks that eventually take over entirely. Summer, 1986: It's stiflingly hot and Dito (Shia LaBeouf) has nothing better to do than kick around the neighborhood with his friends, including goofy, born-loser Nerf (Peter Tambakis), volatile troublemaker Antonio (Channing Tatum), whose own father beats him so mercilessly that he looks to Monty as a surrogate, and Antonio's neglected younger brother, Giuseppe (Adam Scarimbolo). Dito alone has begun to imagine getting away, though he can't quite wrap his mind around actually doing it until he befriends displaced Scot Mike O'Shea (Martin Compston), who's already seen more of Manhattan than the Astoria kids who were raised a few subway stops away. Mike gets Dito a job working for gay dog-walker Frank (Anthony De Sando) and encourages his dreams of getting a band together, but Antonio's escalating war with a gang of Puerto Rican graffiti artists threatens to explode into violence that could derail all their futures. Montiel clearly aspired to rethink his book in cinematic terms, and the result is an unruly montage of memories in which viscerally vivid scenes jostles for space with stagy direct addresses to the camera. Montiel's use of popular music is exceptionally subtle and evocative, and he gets strikingly strong performances from Tatum and Melonie Diaz, who plays Dito's sensible girlfriend, Laurie. And while most of the present-day sequences fall flat, the scene in which Dito visits the adult Antonio (Eric Roberts) in prison — which gives nothing away, since it's clear from the outset that's where he's headed — packs a real emotional punch. Rosario Dawson also makes a strong impression in her brief role as the adult Laurie, and Palminteri and Wiest are outstanding throughout.