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’s seen the extraordinary 2003 documentary Overnight knows how unhinged director Troy Duffy was while making his dream project, 1999’s The Boondock Saints, a movie he also wrote. A bartender with no previous film experience, Duffy penned what insiders at the time referred to as the hottest screenplay around. Miramax eventually won a bidding war for the rights to it, but the studio would 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 some gunplay of its own) 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 more with each successive viewing.

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 the fight 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, polishing off crooks, thugs, and the scum of society at a regular clip, and while the media has no clues as to their actual identities, the papers 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, and is determined to track them down. Even more dangerous, however, is “Papa Joe” (Carlo Rota), head of the mafia's Yakavetta family, who has no intention of allowing “The Saints” to disrupt his very profitable 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 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 plenty of pizzazz (even the opening scene, where the brothers are attending mass, has style to spare). I especially liked how the first-time director handled their vigilante efforts, showing us first the crime scene after the fact, with bodies and bullet casings strewn all over the floor and Agent Smecker studying the clues to try and 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 their share 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 up anticipation for the violence while, at the same time, showing us just how good an investigator Smecker is (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 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, doesn’t deserve this success, but there’s no denying his film does.

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