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Boondock Saints
(1999)
 

Director: Troy Duffy            
Cast:
Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus


It's all well and good to say that a movie is good or bad - I do it myself a lot. But people who have a genuine interest in movies will wisely judge the movie on alternate scales at the same time. One of them is the validity of the movie in question; more specifically, is the movie just an excuse for the director to self-indulge in some artsy-philosophy stuff that no one except himself really cares for, or is the movie a real movie?

What is it that make a movie a real movie? Well, there are a number of factors that can make a movie fit in this category, but one of these factors that I keep seeing again and again in a lot of the movies of this type is that the basic idea behind their stories give the makers of these movies a good excuse to show various kinds of destruction. This can be any kind of destruction, ranging from a mad slasher doing his part for the circle of life by hacking up brain-dead teenagers, to blocks of C4 being ignited in order to level enemy hideouts and what have you.

Having the important element of destruction (and/or any of the other elements) in the movie does make it real, though even us movie lovers Killing someone is more fun if you don't do it alonewho appreciate movies of this kind will admit it's not always enough. To paraphrase George Orwell, "All real movies are real, but some are more real than others." In other words, it's not necessarily the kind of elements in the movie, but how they are presented. The quantity of the movie's elements is somewhat of an influencing factor, but the factors that really make more of a difference are the quality and attitude of those said elements. Which brings me to Boondock Saints. This movie is so real that... well, it's pretty freaking real. It may not be wall-to-wall destruction, but the destruction it displays is of the highest quality. It also possesses not only a high quantity of those other elements, but its attitude in displaying them is lean and bloody-red raw. It is filmmaking at its most powerful, because even before it ends you'll want to be your own self-appointed vigilante judge, jury, and executioner - especially the last of those three.

(I'm sure that last remark will have many art snobs fuming, frothy foam furiously frothing forth from their mouths. To them I say this: Did your beloved Ikiru have you or anyone else wanting to build a children's playground? Did King Of Hearts make you want to want to be the protector for a bunch of unfortunates who are mentally ill? Did The Conversation make you or anyone else want to engage in buggery? No? Well, it just goes to show that Boondock Saints has far more influence than those and other artsy movies. This is filmmaking at its most powerful.)

The "Saints" in the title of the movie are the Irish-American MacManus brothers, Conner (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus). Though stuck in the mean
streets of Boston under fairly destitute conditions, they have each other to rely on and be defended by. If one of them should be kicked in the balls by a fat hag of a woman, the other will introduce his fist to the woman's jaw. Their sense of fairness and justice isn't just confined to themselves; if their beloved local bartender should find his business threatened by some newly-arrived Russian mobsters muscling their way into the neighborhood, they'll smash bottles on the head of one mobster, and soak the backside of the pants of another mobster with alcohol and light it on fire. It turns out that these Russians must have a different sense of justice, since they are so displeased by their punishment that they decide to teach the two brothers a lesson, one of a more permanent kind.

The mobsters later grab and quickly overpower the brothers, but thanks to some Join the fun! If you don't have a weapon, just go through the motions!quick thinking and a little of that old Irish luck, the two brothers within
minutes find themselves with two dead mobsters on their hands. They turn themselves in, but the police write the whole thing off as self-defense, and the whole thing is closed. Or is it? During a subsequent moment of meditation and reflection, the brothers realize that this must be their calling - to hunt down and kill every slimy person that has the nerve to be alive. So working alone at first but later with the help of their very enthusiastic friend Rocco (David Della Rocco), Conner and Murphy start with eliminating the Russian mob and work their way through the ranks of the Italian mob. Still, not everyone immediately sees the logic of their justice. The Italians soon hire a big gun of their own - or to be more exact, a deadly hitman (Billy Connolly!) who carries six guns on his person. Also tracking the brothers are the authorities, headed by Paul Smecker (Dafoe), your typical flamboyantly gay FBI agent that likes to show a rendition of Riverdance at a bloody crime scene.

As you have probably guessed by now, the events that unfold in Boondock Saints aren't exactly supposed to be taken seriously. Had the movie taken the basic premise of this movie and treated it in a serious manner, this realness would have diminished a lot of the real atmosphere to be found here, if you follow me. The callous attitude, severe violence, and other kinds of outrageousness that this movie proudly sports gives the movie its magic, like how the song and dance numbers added to Singin' In The Rain pushed it from a goofy little Hollywood industry drama into a golden age classic.

Though as I indicated earlier, it's not just the elements, but how they are delivered. A lot of this burden falls on the actors, and for the most part everyone in the cast is able to do or say whatever they are assigned with the right delivery - straight or tongue in cheek - that's appropriate for the specific scene. Dafoe has the most challenging role, because not only does his Paul Smecker character have to be convincing as a super-genius detective while on the job, he also has to be convincing when his character all of a sudden does something completely outrageous. Not just convincing in whatever he's doing, but that you can still  believe that this guy is a genius in his field when outside his job he's slapping a gay one night stand in the face and calling him "a fag" for wanting to cuddle with Smecker after sex. Dafoe is clearly having a wild time in his role, and is willing to go all the way with this character, including near the end when we see Smecker has prepared for an infiltration into a mob hideout by... well, I'll just say it shows us Dafoe in a way we've never seen before.

There are others in the cast who show talent in their own right as well. As the very enthusiastic friend of the two brothers, David Della Rocco David Della Rocco learns why he wasn't cast in "The Mask"does give a performance that does admittedly vary quite wildly in its tone, bumbling and stumbling at one point, then at another point jumping wildly into whatever fray is happening at the moment. Though if you look at the fact that his character seems to be one who has his adrenaline gland on at full blast at all times, it kind of seems appropriate that he is never relaxed and calm at any point. His wild personality is not only funny, but it's very engaging. When he's just about on his hands and knees when begging the brothers to let him in on their plan (and that he personally be given the task of knocking off key figures in every massacre), you not only can't help but sympathize with his desperation, but wish that you were at his side blowing away various despicable folk. Porn star Ron Jeremy has a part as a mob lieutenant, and he does manage to show he has at least a bit more talent than the one between his legs. (Though it must be mentioned that his part is not only completely disposable, it's so small that he really isn't given anything that he could possibly screw up.)

As for Flanery and Reedus in the role of the brothers... though they are far from awful in their acting, about the best that can be said about their performances is that both of them are unexceptional. It's really hard to remember their performances after the movie is over, because not only do they almost blend into the scenery at times, they seem to blend into each other frequently. Each of them seems to be trying to imitate the other; the tones in the voices seem alike, and the way any one of them does a specific thing seems indistinguishable from how the other subsequently does it. It's not completely their fault that they come across as two clones, because writer/director Troy Duffy doesn't seem that interested in doing his part to differentiate the two. The two brothers always seem to wear identical clothing, and share the same scuzzy appearance. Not only that, their dialogue is interchangeable; it really doesn't make any difference if any line of dialogue given to one of the brothers in his screenplay is spoken by Conner or Murphy. The screenplay also shows weakness towards the end of the movie, where it I would have used the caption "Another kind of six-shooter" if I could get a better shot that showed he had six gunsseems almost desperate to wrap things up smoothly. For one thing, there is a change in the viewpoint of the Paul Smecker character which is not only sudden, but comes without any explanation as to why he suddenly sees the situation in a different way. His character is subsequently  forced in the climax where he really doesn't make any change in the situation - it just seems he was brought in to provide some laughs. The movie's rush to wrap things up and the devices it uses to accomplish this reminded me of how desperate Return Of The Jedi seemed to make everything neat and tidy.

Though the screenplay may have some weaknesses in properly concluding its story, and in its attempts to make the brothers two unique characters with significant depth, the bulk of the screenplay manages to deliver the goods, aided considerably by the appropriate direction touch so that the violence and various other kinds of outrageousness hit with the right impact. I'm sure there will still be some protests - these people will claim that the writing and the direction rip off John Woo and Quentin Tarantino. While I cannot deny there is a strong possibility that Duffy had been influenced by these two filmmakers, he uses their works as inspiration, and not to blatantly rip-off. Yes, there are slow-motion shootouts here, just like in your typical John Woo movie. But unlike in Woo movies, the slow-motion shootouts here manage focus more on the beauty of the moment than of the pain and death to be found. Strange as it may seem, seeing the people here slowly collapsing while blood squirts out of bullet wounds comes across as artistic. Plus, Woo has never used slow motion in non-action sequences quite like Duffy does here, as in the sequence when several people in slow motion use a steaming hot iron to cauterize their wounds.

As for ripping off Tarantino, well, I guess it's possible Duffy was trying to ape a Pulp Fiction sequence in the scene with the cat (warning: if you love cats, you might not want to watch this movie), but aside from that, it seems that Duffy was only influenced by Tarantino in making the dialogue a different style - hard-boiled yet funny. And not Tarantino's own kind of hard-boiled yet funny; Duffy's is completely different. Plus, Duffy's dialogue not only doesn't pad things out with pop culture references, but gets right to the point with how characters are feeling. One such sample of this is when when a character shows just how incredibly shocked he is when he utters, "F**kin', what the f**kin' f**k - who the f**k - f**k this f**king - how'd you two f**king f**ks... F**K!!!!"

Precise, yet straight and to the point. And on a similar note is how I'll end this review: Go see Boondock Saints.

(P.S. - If there are still some people unconvinced, let me just mention that I first heard of this movie from my parents, who strongly recommended that I watch it and review it for my site. The fact that parents like a movie may not make it seem like it's worth watching, but let me mention that my parents saw - and enjoyed - Dead Alive. So not only is this good evidence this is a good movie, it goes to show I have cool parents.)
 


UPDATE: "Natalie" sent this along:

"Heya! I love your site.. I especially love the review that you did on Boondock Saints. It was wonderful. I was just going to give a little input...  In your review, you said, "During a subsequent moment of meditation and reflection, the brothers realize that this must be their calling - to hunt down and kill every slimy person that has the nerve to be alive."  I'm not  actually positive about this, but I'm almost sure that said moment wasn't "meditation and reflection" ... Rather, it was a prophetic dream. I don't believe that these faithful (if not a bit unusual) Catholics would have preformed such acts of murder, if not directly told to by God. My clues for this are:

-After the dream occurred, when they woke up, the camera focuses on each brother's face for a few seconds, showing looks of almost pained discomfort and questioning, but they seemed to know that they both had the same dream without words. Both of them were eyeing the other with an almost, "Was that for real?" look. Furthermore, a moment of reflection isn't likely to happen to both while unconscious at the same time without some kind of outside influence. (In the movie, anyway. I'm agnostic in real life.. Farther toward atheist, so don't think that my religious convictions [whaaa?] are getting in the way of my opinion. *smiles* )

-When Smecker is in the church, getting council from the priest, he put emphasis on the fact that "fixed the situation with an iron fist as if they had God's permission." I feel that this wouldn't have been added to the script if it didn't have some sort of meaning behind it.

-"The laws...of God...are higher...than the laws of man." Emphasis on every word and all.  =]

"So, yeah... I was just thinking that you might revise that, or at least think about it... I find that I discover something else every time I watch it.. And I do think I'm rather obsessed... I've probably watched it more than twenty-five times in the last month."


UPDATE 2: Blake Winter wrote in with these thoughts:

"Thanks for your site. I enjoy it and have discovered a number of movies I probably wouldn't have heard of, but which are very much worth seeing, through reading it.

"I wanted to just send a quick note following up on Natalie's argument that the brothers view their mission as a divine call. Specifically, when in the jail cell, getting this idea, they both suddenly bolt up and water drips on their foreheads. Considering how this parallels baptism in Catholic practice, I think the brothers at least interpret this as a divine commission. Whether this is really what was going on or whether it is just their interpretation of a coincidence is ambiguous in my mind.

"As is the later scene where they put pennies in the mobsters' eyes. The voiceover speaks about divine protection for them, and it seems significant that the only time the brothers or their father get shot is when they fight one another, and these wounds are comparatively minor. Again one could argue that this is ambiguous as to whether it is their interpretation of a coincidence that leads to a false idea of divine protection or whether it is really there.

"(And just to nitpick: I don't think Smecker's change of heart was out of nowhere. It appeared that he had thought that 'these c**ksuckers slip through the cracks' for a while. When he realized that the killings were being done not by criminals but by otherwise good men, this triggered a crisis of conscience, and, with the help of a priest held a gunpoint, he realized that he, too, should pursue justice this way. Sudden, perhaps, but I found it very believable.

"Also, the brothers are very similar, but that was clearly intentional (witness the opening, where they walk out of church, identically dressed, and light cigarettes in an identical way). They do have a great deal of mutual affection and admiration, and the same background, so their similar mannerisms are quite believable. However, they have somewhat different personalities: one of them, Flannery I think, is a bit more level headed and perhaps a bit colder than the other - look for example at the scene where he argues calmly with Rocco, whereas his brother just bursts in with 'Are you such a f**king retard?' or the scene where he prevents his brother from helping Rocco against the hitman, basically saying that Rocco needs to do this on his own, although he does give him some help.)"

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See also: Back To Back, For A Few Lousy Dollars, Naked Killer

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