Monday, February 21, 2005

Movie Review: The Boondock Saints

United States, 1999
U.S. DVD Release Date: May 21, 2002
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: R (strong violence, language, and sexual content)
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly

Director: Troy Duffy
Producers: Elie Samaha, Chris Binker, Lloyd Segan, Robert Fried
Screenplay: Troy Duffy
Music: Jeff Dana
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox


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The Boondock Saints, a picture that was blacklisted from theaters and pushed straight to DVD, has only been available on store shelves for a few years. However, through word of mouth, the film has both gained quite a following and established itself as a cult classic. By containing captivating characters in superb action sequences, with tricky timing and witty dialogue, first time writer/director Troy Duffy has created a near hidden gem of an independent film. Unfortunately, Duffy’s debut is a bit beset by a low budget and a bit borrowed from bigger blockbusters.

Two fraternal twin brothers, Conner (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) MacManus, may have grown up poverty-stricken (in the “boondocks”), but despite destitution, have remained steadfast in their faith. The Irish MacManus bros. are two tattooed, devout Catholics who carry their crosses with them everywhere they go. Both have firm relationships with God and follow His guidance down whatever path they feel He leads them.

After what seems like just another St. Patty’s Day bar fight, the drunken Irish boys find themselves in a life and death situation with three members of the Russian Mob, and are forced to kill in their own self defense. Then, after turning themselves in to the authorities for the crime and getting off the hook, they discover that the people of South Boston are emphatically behind them—calling them “saints” for getting rid of the low-life mafia scum of the streets. Now, after what seems like a request from God, these vigilante brothers unleash their wrath on all of the wise-guy mobsters and murderers in a series of quick and clean killings.

Meanwhile, the intelligent, seemingly-psychic, yet fruity, F.B.I. Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is in a frantic search to uncover the identities of the South Boston serial killers; he is unbeknownst to the fact that the “saints” he just released are the men responsible for doing the undertaking in all of his open-ended cases. Once he discovers that the murderers are the same two young men that he dismissed for doing the city good, what type of lawful and moral decisions will he make? Will he bring the twins to justice, let them continue, or join in their effort?

In this film that is almost entirely made up of males, a few actors stand out. Willem Dafoe as the opera-induced gay agent and Sean Patrick Flanery as the more dominating brother and bad-ass saint, each do an excellent job of developing their characters. In addition, Ron Jeremy plays his small role as Vicento Lapazzi with pizzazz, and his Elvis garb is an absolute hoot. But, with all big names aside, perhaps the most notable performance of the film comes from David Della Rocco as himself (Roc). This guy, who is actually writer/director Troy Duffy’s longtime best friend, takes his very first on-screen role and runs with it. Rocco as “The Funny Man”, package boy for the Italian Mafia, is the hysterical highlight character of the film. He provides an intense and gritty feel that really kicks the picture up a notch.

Following the 110 minute running time, a few quirky quotes and a few spectacular scenes will surely be burned into your mememory. Especially appreciated are the marinara sauce taste of home quote, the random Riverdance, and the attempt to cuddle from the Asian boy. The slow-motion poker game shoot-‘em-up sequence, the entire four man confessional scene, and the 7-eleven simile are also worth a mention. But, technically you could sum up the grandeur of this picture in two words: the cat. This is one of the most freakishly funny scenes ever, and undoubtedly an absolute riot to any dog lover.

While this movie has many positives, I do have a few complaints concerning the overall motion picture. First off, the audio problems: the dialogue is in a constant battle to be heard over the bland score/soundtrack. With the exception of a few songs (maybe two or three) the music doesn’t fit the film—probably because Duffy’s sub-par band wrote some of the material. Secondly, there are way too many fade-ins and fade-outs; it’s as if Duffy just got his first video camera and fell in love with the fade button. Thirdly, Duffy seems to be doing a lot of imitating scenes from other films. His tied-up and captured sequence in Yakavetta’s basement is reminiscent of Tarantino’s in Pulp Fiction; his unveiling of the Duke is similar to the introduction of John Mason in The Rock; and, his “provoked by God” premise is a Xerox of that of Frailty’s. While a small number of parts of the film may not be entirely original, the rookie to the industry (Duffy) puts a pleasing spin on what he has emulated, warranting a thumbs up.

While the film as a whole earns a thumb up on my scale, some might give a tremendous two thumbs down in terms of the warped perception of religion the film emits. This picture basically excuses the slaughtering of “bad” people in the instance that “God” motivated them to do so. This goes against all Christian teachings, and with the brothers being extremely religious this makes the plot a little less credible. The film itself quotes, “Angels don’t kill”; with that said, neither do saints, and this so-called “sanctified” version of capital punishment is what has some up in arms. In fact, Troy Duffy received a written letter from the Archdiocese of Toronto calling him “the spawn of Satan” for creating a film that makes the goals of God look violent, vengeful, and anti-pro-life. The bottom line is: you can’t kill in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (in Latin, English, or any language) and be declared a saint.

While some may be offended or sickened by the dominant theme of the film, others may simply see the picture as an awesome and entertaining piece of cinema. All in all, you can’t forget that this is a movie; regardless if you view the leads as heroes or villains, they are solid characters atop a solid screenplay. With a few more million in the budget, this film, which strikes a chord concerning the indifference of good men towards evil, could have made more of a mark on the industry. However, with the sequel (Boondocks 2: All Saints Day) in the works and the possibility of a director’s cut DVD release, I am sure that this worthy feature will gain even more fans and followers. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005