Boondock Saints, The (1999)
Release Date: January 22nd, 1999 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Troy Duffy Actors: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly, Brian Mahoney
he Boondock Saints” has become somewhat of a phenomenon on video, attracting a sizable cult following that would influence the arrival of a long-awaited sequel ten years later. Although the original production is marginally overrated, it features several innovative filmmaking ideas, introduces many vividly over-the-top characters, and, through editing and narrative, challenges the viewer’s participation with the events on display. Whereas 2009’s “Wanted” used a less subtle technique for its fantastical conclusion, “The Boondock Saints” instead mixes gritty realism with dark, twisted humor for an enthralling gangster epic, a solid action film, and a jolting vigilante-justice crime caper.
In South Boston on St. Patrick’s Day, multilingual, meatpacking factory worker brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flannery) and Murphy McManus (Norman Reedus) wind up in a bar fight with Russian Crime Syndicate henchmen. Arriving back at their shoddy apartment bruised and beaten but victorious, the duo are quickly ambushed by the same Slavic thugs and targeted for execution. A daring escape involving a miraculous airborne toilet saves the day, but the two have a double killing on their hands. When the brothers surrender to the police, they’re let off on self-defense. But the liberating feeling of eliminating mob members goes to their heads, prompting them to start a brutal vigilante clean-sweep of the city – assassinating high-ranking members of the Boston Italian Mafia, more Russian gangsters, and any other ne’er-do-well who gets in their way.
Each time a vigilante slaying is committed, top FBI Organized Crime Task Force agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is brought in to analyze the situation and produce answers. He’s on the right track for the most part, but when the McManus brothers recruit high-strung, uncontrollable, scruffy mafia deliveryman Rocco (David Della Rocco), the hits become sloppier, unprofessional, and increasingly harder to predict. The Yakavetta Family don panics at the murders and hires the mysterious, Hannibal-like monster “Il Duce” – who’s been rotting in prison for 25 years – to stop the righteous “Lone Ranger-heavy” boondock saints.
The order in which each scene is shown is reminiscent of Tarantino’s works, as is the array of strange yet creative entities. The majority of the film is told in a series of flashbacks; each present action scene fades to black so that Smecker can examine the bloody aftermath and explain to the Boston police how it all went down, subsequently revealing to the audience exactly what happened. Toward the end, Smecker’s character is inserted directly into his own predictions – flashbacks that include all of the relevant characters acting out their conflicts with the all-seeing agent invisibly standing amidst the mayhem. It’s definitely a unique approach to narration, but its effectiveness wears off after the fourth or fifth time it’s utilized.
Dafoe’s Smecker is the oddest of the bunch, displaying an almost schizophrenic flamboyance as he listens to opera or violently reenacts what he believes to have taken place at each crime scene. Collected and calculating one moment and maniacally frustrated at the next, his final act of taking justice “too far” is a hilarious cross-dressing experience that proves Dafoe makes a very, very ugly woman. Evening out the peculiarities is Billy Connolly as an unhinged thug akin to Jean Reno’s Victor the Cleaner, from “La Femme Nikita” (1990), bringing back the lost machismo.
The finale provocatively questions the audience’s interpretations of what they’ve just witnessed, along with heightening the notions of real justice, the controversial role of the media in reporting crime, and the wrongfulness of inaction while witnessing atrocities. Meanwhile, the idea of vigilantism produces a supplementary, exciting, crazy-character-laced actioner complete with gratuitous, slow-motion bloodletting that is thoroughly permeated by morbid humor. In the end, “The Boondock Saints” is an enjoyable and well-executed picture, even if the political and moral insinuations and overblown style are occasionally more exhausting than stimulating.
– Mike Massie