- Vancouver, British Columbia - The Boondock Saints is the debut feature film for writer/director Troy Duffy who up until this point was a bartender and struggling musician, who moved to Los Angles so his band could take off. When the film was released in 1999, it was panned by critics and only played in a very small amount of theatres, making $30,000 domestically. It had a $6 million dollar budget. Ouch. However, the film took on a life of its own once it hit video store shelves and became a cult hit selling $50 million worth of DVDs and videos. So, even the critics have to admit that there is clearly some appeal to the film.
In some ways, I feel the critics were onto something also. In a lot of ways, the film feels like a self indulgent Quentin Tarantino rip off, taking things too far. And let's take a moment to reflect on the kinds of films Tarantino has made. But then again, you can't really make anything these days without someone saying that you copied someone else. Truth is that the story is fairly original and told in a unique way. If doing that and adding profanity makes you a Tarantino rip off, then most of the people complaining are just film students who wished that they got their script found first.
One of the main strengths of the film is the lead actors and characters. The MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) are very likeable, even if their actions are questionable. This is crucial to the film working at all. Similarly, Agent Smecker (Willem Dafoe,) an FBI agent trying to track the brothers down, has to be equally likeable and in that regard the movie succeeds. They are both agents working against crime with very different methods. The movie is a duel between the law and vigilantism... or at least it should have been. I never really felt like that question was presented equally. It seems pretty clear to me that the film takes its stand with vigilantism after about 45 minutes.
It works the best for that period of time when there is some question in what direction the brothers will go. After a while, it just becomes a matter of who they're going to kill and how they're going to do it. It starts to get a bit redundant and we don't see the characters struggle internally with their choices.
But that's not all that's wrong with the second act. The movie's biggest flaw becomes a prominent centerpiece of it. The character “Funny Man” took the movie and turned it from a serviceable crime thriller into a loud and profane anti-comedy and every scene he's in drags and bleeds. The actor, David Della Rocco, was friends with the director. Figures. Apparently Duffy rewrote the script and forced the Funny Man character in it more because he found the guy hilarious. I don't know for sure if this is true, but it sure would make a lot of sense. He is one of the worst characters I have ever seen in a movie. The only thing that makes it tolerable to some extent is the amount of horrible things that happen to him. Does that make me a bad person? You know... I don't think so. Once the guy blew up a cat, I was done with him. For the record, babies and cats are out of bounds. If you kill either, you lose a star.
With or without the Funny Man, the third act is a bit confusing and messy. Before I had any clue as to what was going on, the MacManus brothers were captured out of nowhere and Willem Dafoe is dressed up like a transvestite. It actually feels like a scene is missing. All that aside, there is a good twist at the end, but everything surrounding it is jumbled and confusing.
And here is something kind of interesting. There are almost no women at all in this movie. I can think of two. One is a news reporter who covers the story of The Saints. The other is only in the very beginning and one of the brothers punches her in the face. I'm not normally one to pull out a discrimination card on a movie... but come on.
Yikes, I really went on about the flaws of the film. I think I almost forgot to mention that to some extent I did enjoy it. I like it when I'm watching it, but when reflecting on it, the bad parts seem to stick the most in my head. If I could just re-edit the film and cut out as much Funny Man as possible and get rid of the whole scene where the cat blows up, then I would actually be very pleased with it. Willem Dafoe's performance is riveting at times, while Flanery and Reedus are surprisingly charismatic leads. The majority of the dialogue has a witty punch to it and the out of order storytelling adds a humourous mystery through some scenes that could have been painfully bland. Because of this, it's clear that The Boondock Saints could have been a whole lot worse. Similarly, Troy Duffy's love for excess and his poor judgment in characters has made the film into a bittersweet wasted opportunity standing proudly on top of a dormant masterpiece.
Rating: 3/5 Sour Grapes