Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: The Boondock Saints (1999)

In honor of St. Patrick's Day and the 50th anniversary of the incident that established New Yorkers as a bunch of callous assholes (represent!), I bring you...

The Boondock Saints (1999)

It's a shame that The Boondock Saints didn't get more recognition in its time. Not only did the Columbine High School massacre happen around the same time the film was to come out, but writer/director Troy Duffy was, by many accounts, an asshole who burned every bridge he had in Hollywood over the course of this film's production. The documentary Overnight, made by his friends with the initial purpose of chronicling his rise to fame, instead became a record of how Duffy lost everything; let's just say there's a reason why it took ten years to get a sequel made. Still, in the end it all worked out, as this film soon found its audience on home video and became a St. Patrick's Day tradition. An ultra-violent and extremely profane ode to vigilante justice that feels like Death Wish as made by Quentin Tarantino, The Boondock Saints isn't for the squeamish or the easily offended. It is unapologetic about its subject matter and its anti-hero protagonists, and your enjoyment will depend heavily on whether or not you can embrace that. If you can, though, then what you have here is a wickedly entertaining action thriller.

The basic setup is that two Irish Catholic brothers in South Boston, Connor and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus -- yes, ladies, Daryl Dixon is in this), turn to vigilantism after hearing their priest give a sermon on the murder of Kitty Genovese (which happened fifty years ago today), and after a trio of Russian mafiya goons try to extort their favorite bar. With the help of their friend, disgruntled Italian mafioso David Della Rocco, they go to war against the thugs, murderers, pedophiles, drug dealers, pimps, and others who have Boston living in fear. As the body count associated with the MacManus brothers rises, Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), a eccentric and flamboyant FBI agent, is brought in to help investigate who is responsible for what appears to be a gangland war erupting in the middle of Boston. Once he finds out what the MacManus brothers and Rocco are up to, though, he is conflicted as to whether he should bring them in or help them in their crusade.

There are three reasons to watch this, two of them fairly non-controversial and one of them a bit more so. The first is the acting. Flanery and Reedus were both clearly having fun as the protagonists, with a mix of gun-toting badassitude and Irish charm and wit. David Della Rocco (yes, the actor shares the same name as his character) is more explicitly the comic relief of the trio, managing to be funny even in exceptional circumstances. The three of them have a great rapport, bringing plenty of humor and energy to the affair. However, the true standout here is Willem Dafoe as Agent Smecker, a character so over-the-top and delightfully hammy that he steals every scene he's in. He's simultaneously badass and camp, the two going hand-in-hand for the entire length of the film, culminating in him managing to make dressing in drag look as awesome as John McClane crawling through an air duct.

Second, we have the action. The shootouts here are clearly aping Tarantino and many of the indie crime dramas that came in his wake, but they're done well enough that I can't really complain. After a decade of shaky-cam from directors who couldn't stage an action scene to save their lives (looking at you, Paul W. S. Anderson), I think it's safe to say we can all look back on the action films of the '90s and early '00s, with their admittedly ridiculous overstylization and cues lifted directly from Hong Kong, and realize that we'd been utterly spoiled during that time. Troy Duffy frequently indulges in such here, with top-down shots, rotating cameras, and lots of slow-motion, and it works far more frequently than it doesn't. Between that and its high level of bloodshed, this is a film that utterly bathes in its sleaze and style.

That brings me to the last point: this film's crassness. Much like with The Wolf of Wall Street, your enjoyment of this film will live or die on how well you respond to its attitude. A common drinking game associated with this movie is to take a drink for every F-bomb; if you're not plastered thirty minutes in, you will be after one famous scene where Rocco, uh, illustrates the diversity of the F-word. This movie is vulgar, foul-mouthed, blood-drenched, politically incorrect, and very proud of it, and there's a good chance that it will cross the line for some of viewers. Me, I enjoyed it at least partly for those very reasons, the film being so over-the-top that it's hard to take seriously, but I'm throwing the warning out there just in case.

Score: 4 out of 5

It's not a perfect action movie, but it's a rollicking good time and a great St. Patrick's Day tradition. Grab your green clothing and your Guinness, because after watching this, you too will have a little fighting Irish in you.

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