Sunday, June 21, 2015

#1,770. The Boondock Saints (1999)

Directed By: Troy Duffy

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus

Tag line: "Thy Kingdom Come. Thy Will Be Done"

Trivia: The prisoner number for Il Duce, is Director Troy Duffy's old cell phone number

Anyone who has seen the extraordinary 2003 documentary Overnight knows how unhinged writer / director Troy Duffy became while making his dream project, 1999’s The Boondock Saints. A bartender with no previous film experience, Duffy penned what insiders at the time referred to as the hottest screenplay around, and after a bidding war, it was Harvey Weinstein and Miramax who purchased the rights to it. 

Weinstein and his studio, however, would eventually withdraw from the project due to Duffy’s erratic behavior; considered a low-budget picture form the start, he insisted on courting big-name stars like The Matrix’s Keanu Reeves and even Kenneth Branagh, actors he couldn’t possibly afford. Straining both his professional and personal relationships during production (Overnight was shot and directed by Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith, both friends of Duffy’s, yet doesn’t portray him in a positive light), Duffy’s Hollywood career seemed over before it began. 

Compounding the problem was the fact that the scheduled release of The Boondock Saints coincided with the tragedy at Colorado's Columbine High School, where two students entered the school with firearms, killing 12 classmates and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves. As a result, the movie, which has quite a bit of gunplay, was given a token release in 5 cities, where it played for a week before disappearing from the big screen.

Still, in spite of its troubled history, The Boondock Saints is a stylish, energetic crime film, and I find myself enjoying it a little more every time I see it.

When the Russian mob threatens to take over their favorite bar, brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) McManus take matters into their own hands by killing three of the mob’s enforcers. As a result of this showdown, the devoutly religious McManus boys decide to enter the vigilante business, taking to the streets to rid Boston of its criminal element. 

Joining them in their "sacred" quest is good friend Rocco (David Della Rocco), a low-level mobster with plenty of inside information. It isn’t long before the three start making headlines by polishing off crooks, thugs, and the scum of society at a regular clip. And while the media has no clue as to their actual identities, they start referring to them as “The Saints”, applauding the efficient manner in which they’re cleaning up the city.

Of course, not everyone is happy with their efforts. Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), an openly gay FBI investigator with the uncanny ability to piece together a crime scene, is hot on their trail. Even more dangerous, though, is “Papa Joe” (Carlo Rota), head of the mafia's Yakavetta family, who has no intention of allowing “The Saints” to disrupt his organization. To this end, “Papa Joe” brings in the mob’s most ruthless hit man, a guy known only as “Il Duce” (Billy Connolly), to eliminate The Saints before they can do any further damage. 

Will the brothers and Rocco survive this onslaught, or are their days as the saviors of society numbered?

Despite his lack of experience behind the camera, Duffy infuses The Boondock Saints with tons of energy; even the opening scene, where the brothers are simply attending mass, has style to spare. I especially liked how the first-time director handled his lead characters' vigilante efforts, showing us each crime scene after the fact, with bodies and bullet casings strewn all over the floor as Agent Smecker studies the clues to figure out what went down. Once Smecker presents his version of events, the film flashes back to reveal how “The Saints” actually did it, sequences that feature plenty of bloody carnage (the scene where the brothers take out an entire room of high-level Russian gangsters is particularly well-handled). By giving us the aftermath before the event itself, Duffy builds our anticipation while, at the same time, showing us just how good Smecker is at his job (his deductions are usually spot-on).

With its excellent cast (Flanery and Reedus are likable as hell as the McManus brothers, but Dafoe’s animated turn as the slightly effeminate Smecker is a scene-stealer) and a whole lot of flash and flair, The Boondock Saints is a spirited, entertaining crime film, and I’m happy that, despite its checkered history, the movie found an audience on home video (it made some $50 million in video sales in the U.S. alone). 

You can argue that Duffy, whose arrogance nearly ruined the picture, may not deserve this success, but his film certainly does.

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