Saints in its location (Queens, New York) and theme (escaping and/or trying to come to terms with one's past). For elaboration on this, see the interview with Mr. Montiel that follows this review.
Jake Cherry -- at left, above, with Al Pacino -- who plays the younger version of the leading role, and newcomer Brian Gilbert, who plays his best friend. Young Gilbert, who is sensational, somehow morphs into Tracy Morgan as an adult -- about as unlikely a pairing of a young and older character as you could imagine. (This makes the Shia LaBoeuf transition into Robert Downey (in Guide/Saints) seem like a case of identical twins.) Two scenes involving these child actors stand out. One comes early on, as a kid with a gun hides from a menacing intruder. Later -- in a scene involving a blackmailer, a dog and the kids -- fear, frustration and moment-to-moment action build into something fierce, frightening and genuinely surprising.
Channing Tatum (above) -- beefy, tired and not nearly as good looking as he usually is -- comes across as quite believable as the cop with a past. As his wife, Katie Homes (below, right) has yet another thankless, practically one-note role role but manages it well enough. That's she below, with the couple's daughter, played by Ursula Parker.
Ray Liotta (below, right) are both fine, and, as Tatum's scummy partner (below center), James Ransone'll give you goose bumps, he's so skeevy.
The Son of No One, release via Anchor Bay Films, opened yesterday here in New York City at the Village East Cinema, and in Los Angeles at Rave Motion Pictures 18 + IMAX.
Chatting with Dito Montiel, below, is a delight, beginning to end. He's friendly, energetic, funny and real -- with seemingly no separation between his professional persona and his ability to make it seem like just-us-guys-shootin'-the-bull. In the conversation below, TrustMovies appears in boldface and Dito in standard type:
Well, they used to call me Deeto when I was little, then they started calling me Ditto, so that became it. But, really, I’ll answer to anything.
And is your last name pronounced Mon-tee-elle, with the accent on the last syllable?
You know it seems like your first film A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, was made a long time ago, but it has only been five years.
Yes, it does seem like a long time ago. Maybe because that movie took place in the 80 – which was a long time ago. But not that long.
Are you from Queens originally?
Yeah—Astoria. 31st Street. Right under the train. We actually filmed Saints on my block!
Wow -- I live in Jackson Heights. For decades we lived in Manhattan but then I got older and needed more space but didn’t have the money…
Yeah, then Queens starts looking good! When I was growing up, Queens was definitely not cool. Now—everybody I know that is cool, they’re in Queens of Brooklyn. I say, Hey – what are you doin’ out of Manhattan?!
So everyone’s goin’ somewhere else, and I guess it’s time for Brooklyn and Queens!
Where do you live now?
Now—I live out in Los Angeles. I was in Astoria until a year ago. It was funny: I first went out to L.A. to work. A friend had a music studio and I worked there. But then I had to come back here to make the first film, so it was like I came from L.A. to New York to make movies! But now I’m back out there.
I was born and raised in L.A., but I never liked it much. Then I discovered New York.
That’s funny, 'cause my dream was always to go to California!
Yeah: New Yorkers often have that dream, I guess. When I was watching your new movie the other day, a few times during it I thought of Sidney Lumet. Have other people mentioned that connection?
I surely hope so. That would sure make me happy. I love him, of course, like everyone else. He is –
Or was –
Oh, right. The best.
Well, we need somebody to fill his shoes.
But those are ridiculous shoes!
Yeah, they’re hard shoes to fill, but you’re young and have time to grow. You've certainly carved a little niche with your films – although, I guess your second movie, Fighting, was not really in that niche….
Yes, Fighting was a crazy kind of movie. It was a movie they had been trying to make for like ten years. And they called me to rewrite it, to give it a little something. It was a basketball movie originally.
I liked Fighting but not as much as your other two. And now that I understand its genesis, I also understand why. It wasn’t a personal movie, like your other two are. Has moviemaking gotten easier for you, as you’ve made each film?
Well, I have only been making movies for five years, but from everyone I speak to, it is really getting harder. Look: it’s impossible to make movies, period. It's like Lotto times a million. I don't even know how I got into this stuff. It’s so crazy. But I think it might be kind of like the music business was maybe ten or twelves years ago. And I don’t want to be corny or overly optimistic – but art will always exist somehow. It just will.
I agree. Look at how many movies open theatrically in New York in one week: 15, 20, 25. Historically that has never happened before -- in my lifetime anyway.
Yeah, and they close the next week.
Right – and sometimes during the week that they do play, they play only once or twice a day.
Just so they can say it came out in a theater. You know, I started getting emails on Facebook a week or so back from people saying, "Oh, I love your movie!" But it wasn’t out yet, so I emailed them back saying, How did you see it? Turns out they had all watched it online. So, really, everything is leaking. You can’t stop it. It is one of those weird things. When you are not in this business you tend to think that everyone in it is rich and famous, and so, oh, no, they don’t get the income off of my movie ticket. It won't matter. They’ll be fine. But no. I am certainly not rich, and so this starts to be a scary thing. One of the biggest imports that America has is its entertainment, and it is a scary thought that everyone is juts stealing it now.
I guess it is this idea that’s taken hold now that content should somehow be free. But what does that do to the starving artist. He’s just going to starve even longer.
And what does this mean for the movie theater experience?
I have a friend who said, Oh, I just found a great online site that shows are the new movies that are in theaters. I asked her, but isn’t the quality pretty terrible. Yes, she said, but I get to see them free. So what? Well, I love movies too much to want to watch something crappy-looking online. I want a movie to look as good as it can.
In the old days, with the bootlegged copies, they looked so bad that you still watned to see the movie in a theater afterward. But now that the copies are looking better, I don’t know….
So what was casting like with your new film? You sure managed to get some wonderful actors in it. But then, you always do.
You know, sometimes I hear directors go on about how everyone they worked with was kind of annoying. But everyone I worked with here was ridiculous. Wonderful! And not just the 'name' people, but even the local New York stage performers. And a newcomer like Brian Gilbert who played the young Tracy Morgan role.
Yeah—it’s funny, because anytime I cast a film, I go to schools, I ride the subway, and when I see someone who looks interesting to me, like a young kid, I had them a card and tell them who I am, and say. Here’s the phone number, Have you mother call me. And this time a teacher up in Harlem called me about Brian Gilbert. I have this kid who is really good. I went up there, and he had about seven kids who were so good. I couldn’t believe it. I said, Oh, my god. I think Brian is 13, and I said I couldn’t bring a camera in so just do something for me. And he says, Well, I have this monolog…. So he did it, and it just blew me away. So I tell myself, He doesn’t look anything like Tracy Morgan, but people have got to see this kid, so somehow I’ve got to make this work.
I’m trying to remember: Did I feel that way, also about Shia LaBeouf and Robert Downey in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints…?
Yes, yes. Shit -- they don’t look anything alike.
But it worked a little better somehow. What about Juliet Binoche. How did she get into this film?
Yeah—and at one of those funky little Queens newspapers….
Juliet (shown below) is so sweet: When we talked about the role, I told her, My thought is you probably came to America thinking you’re going to be the writer for The New York Times, but now here you are working for this little paper, and someone starts writing you letters, and you don’t care if they’re real or not—you’re just excited that someone is doing something.
One thing I didn’t understand – and maybe I missed some dialog. But – SPOILER AHEAD: SEE THE MOVIE FIRST -- Why does the girl – the sister, I think it is, turn out to be the one who is sending the letters?
Well, it’s kind of funny: I wrote the movie originally that it was the Tracy character who is writing the letters. But as we were getting ready to make the iflm, I decided that, no, I really liked that character a lot and I didn’t want him to be a liar throughout the film. If you watch the movie closely at the opening of the movie, that girl is being dragged out of there by the police.. They are not being very nice.
This is not a racist movie, but racism figures very strongly in the film. You watch it and think, Oh, shit, it’s still here.
So the girl, then, has realized that Channing Tatum’s character is a now a cop?
My personal thought was that she didn’t even want to ruin him. She was just mad at the cops.
Did you know Channing Tatum before you made Guide/Saints? Because he's in all your films.
No – I didn’t but I think he is a really good actor. Obviously I am a huge fan. He is a great guy. And I really think he can act his head off. It’s funny, when I met Al Pacino for the first time, I told him – You know, whenever I am making a movie I look for someone like you – like the character you played in Panic in Needle Park. But where are those guys? It’s like they don’t exist. And he said a funny thing. He said, "It’s not that there a lot of great actors now, it’s just that the world is just different. People don’t come from a sense of neighborhood anymore." There is not a real neighborhood. You don’t even hear accents like you used to hear them. The world have become a very level place.
And it also much more diverse now.
Yes, so people are more worldly. So Channing, strangely for me, has that very blue collar sense, which I don't see a lot in actors. And as good looking as he is –
When I first met her, I thought, this is a really hard role, at least in my mind. In most movies, marriages are great or they’re terrible. Normally they’re not just very "middle.”
But normally, they are.
Exactly: they are. They’re a mix of those things. And in this movie, I wanted it to be… I wanted it to be… You know, like a movie I loved so much: The 25th Hour. It was very simple, about one guy, one day, who is about to go to jail for 6 years. So with this movie, and with all this roles, I didn’t want this to be just a vengeance movie. People don't grab a gun and save the day. They just life their life. I know a lot of couples married a long time who do not know that much about each other. And that’s what’s happening here. Everyone seems afraid in this movie. Cold fear, and that’s what I wanted.
He really is the best, truly.
He really has done some fabulous stuff. What’s next for you?
I am just writing; I had a book out called The Clapper – about a guy out in L.A. who goes to bad TV shows and claps and stuff and gets people to laugh. I am trying to make a movie out of that. I think it could be really fun.
How old are you?
You’re kidding. You don’t look that old at all.
I’ve been around, man. I’ve been around forever.
Well, then you have to hurry and work faster.
(He laughs) OK: I will!
Are you married?
Yes, and I have one little girl – named Charlie, like in the movie.
Great. Well, I am really glad to have finally met the guy who made one of my favorite films. Thanks, Dito – and I really wish you success with this latest film.