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Faith and Begorrah

The Boondock Saints / Brian Prisco

Film Reviews | September 1, 2009 | Comments (27)

The Boondocks Saints — and consequently the ignominious history of its writer/director Troy Duffy — is a parable worthy of Job, if the beleaguered Biblepawn were a consummately arrogant and fiesty shit-talking bag of hairy cocks. It’s a divisive film, inspiring either nodding praise or headshaking snorts of disgust. There seems to be no middle ground. What’s even more jarring is there seems to be no logical breakdown among admirers or detractors — it’s just as likely to share DVD shelf space with Reservoir Dogs as with Witless Protection. It’s indisputably a poorly made first film, with jagged pacing, gaping plot holes, and performances worthy of an Animaniac coke-bender. It’s a high-octane, f-bomb eradicated action-thriller muffled — damn near smothered — under the cassock of heavy-handed, blue-collar Irish Catholic moralizing. Yet, these very flaws are what make the film so endearing and original to me. Troy Duffy proved he’s got balls, if not a fucking brain in that shit head of his, and he’s earned every ounce of both the begrudging respect and overwhelming scorn that’s been heaped upon him. For it’s impossible to even deign to consider The Boondock Saints without fixing a scathing glare at its creator.

Troy Duffy fucking had it all. The Weinstein brothers (before they fell from grace) offered the Boston-bred bartender a lugubrious sum for his script about two Irish brothers who become avenging angels of death against the evil men of the seedy underbelly of the world. Not only was this virtual nobody getting paid sick bank for the script, he was also going to direct. Not only was this fucking ponce getting to direct his own script, but his shitty rock band The Brood was going to do the entire soundtrack and possibly get a goddamn record contract. Real names were considering the project: Mark Wahlberg, Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Kevin Spacey, Patrick Swayze. But Duffy pissed it away. Not just a trickle, but a fucking 15-beer, pull over the fucking car, my goddamn back teeth are floating, knock down a sequoia stream of piss. The most glorious part is the entire debacle was captured in the staggering documentary Overnight by Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith. Duffy couldn’t be humbled, even as the house was burning down around him, even as his own brother had to kick him out of their band, even as Harvey Weinstein refused to return calls and he became about as popular as a leper in a game of Twister. I give him credit: in a sell-out town, the man stuck to his guns. Right up to the point he turned and put those guns on himself, said a stock prayer, and blew off his own foot.

The Boondock Saints ended up becoming a cult hit. I remember hearing about it from my friend Matt Rittenhouse who said to me, “You see this yet? You gotta see it. Oh, man, you gotta see it.” This is pretty much how all people get introduced to Boondock Saints. It’s a dark secret, passed trench coat pocket to backpack in a dark alley or behind closed doors at a party. It adds to the mystery of the film. It joins Suicide Kings and Donnie Darko as something that someone tells you about in whispers. It’s a cast of people you kind of recognize, and then one actor whose presence is so odd you just feel compelled to check it out. Suicide Kings had Walken, Darko had Swayze, and Boondock Saints — god bless it — has Willem Dafoe.

Duffy might have had access to a marquee of stars, but I can’t imagine this film with anyone but the goddamn mutt’s medley of actors who eventually cobbled together to become the saints row. It’s like Kevin Smith if he were forced to shoot Chasing Amy with the original proposed cast set by Miramax: David Schwimmer, Drew Barrymore, and Jon Stewart. It might have made millions and millions of dollars, but it wouldn’t be remotely as classic a film as it was. The cast of Boondock Saints works because it feels like a first film cast — a few vaguely familiar faces doing this small project because they believe in it. It doesn’t feel studio assembled, and it certainly doesn’t feel like getting last dibs at the acting pool because nobody wants to get poisoned by the black sheep.

Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flannery play Murphy and Connor McManus, respectively. Draped in all the black trench coats, religious tattoos, and rosaries with Celtic crosses they can carry, these guys don’t look like intimidating killers. And that’s what works. The Boondock Saints aren’t hardboiled thugs, or tough guys, or ex-military. They’re two hyped-up fanatics devoted to a cause sent straight from God. They learn their tactics from television programs, with a fighting style that can best be described as scrapping. They join forces with their friend David Della Rocco, played cleverly enough by David Della Rocco, who is called The Funny Man. He’s a package boy for the Italian Mob, but mostly treated like their kicking post. He’s an oldhead still doing the shitwork, and he gets about a pube of the respect afforded Rodney Dangerfield by Don Rickles. He even gets beat-around by Ron Jeremy starring as a greasy fat guy named Vincenzo Lipazzi with a porno moustache.

The Saints fall into the vengeful Hand of God role very sloppily. A bar fight on St. Patrick’s Day against goons from the Russian mob gives them a taste for taking out the bad guys. All the sequences of violence are shown as aftermath and then Encyclopedia Browned out by FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Dafoe). I need to take a moment and just revel in the performance by Dafoe. It’s awesome, not in the gnarly Fast Times at Ridgemont High sense of the word, but in the fact that it is a performance and a role that inspires incredible amounts of awe. Dafoe chews scenery like a starved woodpecker made of termites, swallowing splintery chunks and spreading cheeks to squat out handcrafted Amish antiques. It’s a role that recalls Gary Oldman’s villain in The Professional, but also Nathan Lane in The Birdcage and maybe even David Bowie in Labyrinth. He’s frightening, but not menacing, more of a brain-meltingly unhinged. He dances through crime scenes to the sounds of opera, slaps his gay lovers because they want to cuddle, bullies a city detective into fetching him coffee and bagels, and at one point dons a wig and skirt in probably one of the most horrific cross-dressing scenes I will ever witness. You’re glad the two brothers are gunning down mobsters, if only to get Smecker on the scene so he can raise the movie above the dangerous level of mediocrity it dares to tread.

The rest of the film is pretty much the origin story of the Boondock Saints. They kill more and more evil men until the Italian mob boss Yakavetta sends Il Duce (Billy Connolly) after them. Billy Connolly has very little to do in the film, but by god does he do it well. I never would have pegged him for a believable assassin, but like Dan Akyroyd in Grosse Pointe Blank, he gets the job done, decked out like the AARP wing of The Matrix. It’s almost like a videogame where the two brothers blast their way through faceless goons. There’s no rhyme or reason or background other than these are bad men and God told them to do it. When Funny Man Rocco joins them, he guides the brothers and picks out the bad guys for them.

The script is extremely lazy. It’s basically Bible quotes alternating with scenes of men shouting “fuck” at each other — almost 246 times in a 110 minute movie, a quota even my sailor-on-fire mouth has yet to reach, you fucking fuckface fuckwrenches. Then every ten pages, Duffy makes sure to include “the Boondocks Prayer,” which still falls short in comparison to Ezekiel 25:17. The directing style is even more pedantic (hmm, yes, shallow also) with Duffy lovingly splattering slowmo blood while a chorus laments on the soundtrack. It would be inventive if it weren’t so goddamn stock repetitive. Seriously, every fucking scene of violence occurs in slow motion. If the film played in real time, it would have been 52 minutes long. If he cut out one third of the “fucks,” it could have qualified as a short film. The movie manages an epic feat; it jerks forward into a rather abrupt resolution and then sputters forwards into not just two, but three epilogue endings.

When he does it right, Duffy does it magnificently. When the Russians from the opening scene handcuff Connor to a toilet while they take Murphy five floors down to kill him, Connor goes berserk and literally tears the toilet — to the point of blood-dripping wrists — out of the floor. He carries it to the fire escape and drops it on one of the thugs while he leaps off the ledge onto the other thug. All in slow motion of course, but Duffy pulls it off. In the first encounter with Il Duce, we watch the old man and the two young Saints gun it out as Smecker stands in the shot miming the gunfire. Moments like these capitalize on the slow motion, Dafoe’s over-the-top carousing, the flashback replays.

While these scenes are spectacular, there’s still another 100 minutes of movie around it. Watching it now, in the wake of the ultra violence that cinema has reached, it’s almost become quaint by comparison. This film had the unfortunate consequence of being born in 1999, a year when a lot of folks were doing a lot of pretty phenomenal things. It got fluffed off in a January 2000 release in just five theatres under the auspices of the Columbine massacre since by two black trench coated vigilantes delivering justice from the barrel of a silencer. What was controversial at the turn of the century now seems practically tame and adorable just a decade later. The movie itself engenders a mostly light comic nature in spite of all the preaching and asscap-popping, which is why at the end I say it’s worth a watch.

The end of the film features mock documentary footage of people arguing over the righteousness of the Saints. Some people say right on, some say they’re terrible, and others offer no comment. Duffy foresaw the attitude people would have towards his film and I would almost give him credit for poking fun at himself, if he weren’t such a self-serving arrogant dick. My favorite moment is realizing Duffy and his bandmates cameo in the film in the opening bar brawl. They leap up from the stools like they’re going to duke it out with the Russian thugs, when in actuality, the brothers do all the work, and Duffy and his crew stand off to the side doing nothing. Now that’s a metaphor for this film if ever I saw one. That or the fact the bar is owned by a stuttering retard bartender with Tourette’s (who played Doc on “Fraggle Rock” — which is why the character is named Doc).

Duffy finally finished his follow-up almost ten years later. It’s due out the first of November, and I have low hopes for it. Practically the entire cast has come back, with the notable and regrettable exception of Willem Dafoe. Since he held the film aloft for me, I’m worried. Particularly when a gander at the cast list shows campy additions (Judd Nelson, Peter Fonda as The Roman) and/or variations that look like they went The Whole Ten Yards route: replace the bad guys with family members or distant relations of the bad guys. I sincerely doubt Duffy sees this as humbling, but rather as a fuck you to all the people who thought his scrappy Irish ass couldn’t make it anymore. The Weinsteins have fallen from grace, his documentarian detractors have done nothing since Overnight, and nobody will let Willem Dafoe babysit their kids. If Duffy won, it’s in the twelfth round with brain damage and career-ending injuries.

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Ultimately, I don't mind Boondock Saints, but I do tend to mind when people make it out to be something it's not. It's a shoot-em-up revenge fantasy, moral masturbation fodder the days when it seems like being a good person gets you fuck all. Nothing wrong with that, and frankly it's better than it has any right to be given the thin premise and mostly two dimensional characters. But I've met people who are like "Oh my god, this movie changed my life!" and it's a little ridiculous. The only thing this movie will change is your answer to the question "Would you like to see Willem Dafoe portraying a flamboyantly homosexual FBI investigator who cross dresses?"

Related; this past summer I saw a dude who had Veritas and Aequitas tattooed up the back of his arms. On his "guns" if you will. I nearly burst out laughing.

Posted by: Rusty (formerly Genny) at September 1, 2009 4:17 PM

This is the most overrated movie ever.

I hate it when I meet a cute girl, and then she tells me this is her favorite movie.

Well, obviously we can't ever hang out then, bitch. I can't believe I wasted alcohol on you. Get out of my sight.

Posted by: Bucko at September 1, 2009 4:18 PM

Even having seen Overnight, and therefore knowing what a total asshole Duffy is, I could have been persuaded to give this movie a chance. So you had me up until...

Seriously, every fucking scene of violence occurs in slow motion.

I can't watch The Patriot. I won't be able to watch this.

Posted by: Todd at September 1, 2009 4:29 PM

Bucko, I wonder if that's just girls trying to be "cool" by saying they love a "dude movie", which I never do. If I said my favorite movie is 10 Things I Hate About You would you buy me booze? Because I'm seriously broke at the moment which makes me want to drink all the more.

Posted by: Rusty (formerly Genny) at September 1, 2009 4:35 PM

"Duffy couldn’t be humbled, even as the house was burning down around him, even as his own brother had to kick him out of their band, even as Harvey Weinstein refused to return calls and he became about as popular as a leper in a game of Twister."

I'm confused. Is this a new documentary about the Gallagher Brothers and the implosion of Oasis?

Posted by: PaddyDog at September 1, 2009 4:36 PM

I enjoyed this movie well enough and then promptly forgot almost everything about it except the scene where someone accidentally shoots a cat. Those things stick with you. Like cat fur.

Posted by: Julie at September 1, 2009 4:42 PM

That toilet scene was just outright cool, and the slow-motion is what put it over the top. If that paints me as the emotionally adolescent gorehound, then so be it.

I also really dug Dafoe's CSI theatrics.

It's all style for style's sake, but it works.

That all said...the rest of the movie - when venturing beyond that style - didn't do much for me.

Posted by: DarthCorleone at September 1, 2009 4:51 PM

Connor goes berserk and literally tears the toilet — to the point of blood-dripping wrists — out of the floor.

Say what you will, but even reading that sentence made my tearducts quiver. Dammit if I ain't one of the cheerleaders for team love-this-movie.

Posted by: Patty O'Green at September 1, 2009 4:55 PM

“The Weinstein brothers (before they fell from grace) offered the Boston-bred bartender a lugubrious sum for his script...”

Quick definitions (lugubrious)

▸ adjective: excessively mournful

“The directing style is even more pedantic...”

Quick definitions (pedantic)

▸ adjective: marked by a narrow focus on or display of learning especially its trivial aspects

Use a dictionary.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler at September 1, 2009 4:59 PM

Wow. This movie didn't change my life but I loved the premise of it- two good Irish boys taking the law into their own hands- fighting the scum of the earth- against a detective who has his own, um, issues to wrestle with.

To each his own, I guess.

Posted by: Be Adequite! at September 1, 2009 5:00 PM

I'd rather stab myself in the crotch repeatedly while listening to The Cranberries than watch this again.

Tiocfaidh ár lá.

No, no.

Poghue mahone.

Aye, that's the one.

Posted by: TSF at September 1, 2009 5:06 PM

This movie is pretty stupid, but those guys are HOT and Willem Defoe is hilarious. I wouldn't go out on a second date with a guy who said it was the best movie ever though.

Posted by: AM at September 1, 2009 5:12 PM

"There was a firefight!"

Okay, you got me... I do own this DVD, but I do not own Witless Protection.

Boondock Saints isn't a great movie, but it is a damn entertaining movie to watch while getting one's drink on. Also, Willem Dafoe's got some sexy legs.

Posted by: agent bedhead at September 1, 2009 5:32 PM

Rusty, was this fella..with the Veritas and Aequitas tattoos, someone you may have seen in Las Vegas?

Just askin' because I have three friends, yeah that's right I said 3, that have that same tattoo. And no, they didn't do it all together. They had never even met until I had introcuded them all at some point.

Makes me question my judgment in friends....

Posted by: ashes at September 1, 2009 5:42 PM

Dafoe chews scenery like a starved woodpecker made of termites, swallowing splintery chunks and spreading cheeks to squat out handcrafted Amish antiques.


I really enjoyed this film, I have the deluxe collector's edition dvd. I don't have much hope for the sequel, though.

Posted by: Lauren at September 1, 2009 5:46 PM

You can't have a complaint about fucks, look at Pulp Fiction, shit, even a few of the Die Hards. The "cat" scene. cracks me the fuck up everytime I see it. As well as the one when Rocco runs into the room screaming "We gotta get the fuck outta here." I love this movie, love it. That whole word of mouth spread you were talking about, that was me, in college. I think we had crowds of about 40 people watching it in the Student Center at least 3 times a week.

by two black trench coated vigilantes delivering justice from the barrel of a silencer.
They wore a pea coat...a pea coat...not a trench coat...a goddamn pea coat.

Rusty, I actually have a friend who has Veritas and Aequitas tattooed on his forearms. While I wouldn't do that I also know a guy who him and his best friend got them down their fingers like the brothers. As well I have another friend whose dad got a silencer permit so he ran out and bought a pea coat.

FYI...when they did the re-release for the special edition DVD in theatres who went and saw it? This guy, right here. It was like going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, everyone knew every single line, and people were shouting at the screen.

Posted by: Deistbrawler at September 1, 2009 5:52 PM

Dear Mr. Winkler,


You might not be familiar with my writing style. It's spastic, and I tend to do with the English language what the monkeys undoubtedly did to your bulldog of a mother -- I fuck with it in uncomfortable ways and the result can be confusing and awkward.

So when I said, lugubrious sum, what I meant was one that would make other people cry not necessarily mournfully, but I was going for the more lamentative aspect of the word. Plus, lugubrious is a fun word to say. Go ahead. Give her a try.

And I know you've probably got better things to do with your precious time than watch Family Guy, but I was mostly going for the Petarded shallow and pedantic pun there.

But thanks for the grammar lesson. Here's one for you: "consensual sex" -- n. what more than likely evades you without money being exchanged.

Hugs and kisses,

Posted by: Prisco at September 1, 2009 5:58 PM

I know this movie gets kicked around quite a bit on this site - and it certainly isn't perfect - but it gets my Irish up everytime I see it. I love that. And I fucking love that moment with the Bushmills and the cat. You know what I'm talking about.

"Is it dead?"

Posted by: bibliophile at September 1, 2009 6:03 PM

I recently tried to watch this because the guy I'm seeing says it's the best thing ever and his favorite movie. I barely made it half way through and was forced to make out with him to end the torment. Now I'm torn. If I keep seeing him, he'll eventually want me to watch the whole thing. But it seems shallow to dump him just because his favorite movie might actually be worse than Manos: the Hands of Fate.

Posted by: king at September 1, 2009 6:39 PM

ashes, nope. This dude was in a fabric store in central Maryland. Made it all the more ridiculous, though to his credit it appeared that his lady friend was purchasing things not himself.

Posted by: Rusty (formerly Genny) at September 1, 2009 6:41 PM

I straight up love this flick. I make no bones about it, I dont use it to flirt with guys to make them think I'm cool, I just caught it one night at like 2am when a bout of insomnia had me sitting alone downstairs mostly ignoring the TV. I glanced up in time to see the three main names; Dafoe, Flannery, Reedus, thee actors I like and thought 'heck, worth a watch'
Instantly hooked. I'm not one of those uber fans who thinks Duffy's a misunderstood genius, the man is douche to the Nth.But he made a film that resonated with me on a really basic, but important level; it was fun. No scene in the film is dull (this is IMO of course) even the dialogue scenes are kept either interesting or funny either through dialogue or the sheer chemistry between Reedus, Flannery and Dafoe.
Not to mention, as I've said before, Dafoe in drag confused and titillated me in equal parts. I'm straight...but just for a few minutes...I wondered...

Posted by: Nadine at September 1, 2009 6:42 PM

Anybody who read recent discussion knows how I feel about this movie. I'm not going to get into it again because it would imply that I care about it more than I really do. For those who didn't read what I said about it: I don't think it's very good. If you want more than that you'll have to find the thread from a few weeks ago when it was discussed.

Posted by: Eep at September 1, 2009 6:50 PM

I have this penchant for saying "We could kill EVERYONE" ala Rocco.

Though really, I definitely wish this movie stuck in my mind a hell of a lot less than it does. I could use the brainspace.

Posted by: Jams at September 1, 2009 7:00 PM

When I tell people this movie is my favorite it's because I genuinely love it. Its mindless, violent, hilarious fluff that I can watch on any Sunday morning. It isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but even watching Overnight couldn't diminished the enjoyment I get out of this movie. And I really couldn't give a fuck whether or not anyone else thinks its "cool". Also; I buy my own goddamn drinks.

I'm actually not very tough at all.=_=

Posted by: CinnabarriGirl at September 1, 2009 7:11 PM

I remember seeing the large poster for this movie at Blockbuster circa 2000 and going "Heh, worth a shot." I rented it and had my brain blown to the back of my skull.

It's not a good movie. It lacks coherence and lacks common sense. And yet I can't hate it. It's fun in a disturbing kind of way -- I mean, Willem Dafoe in drag. WTF?!

I own it. And yes, I understand it's a frat boy staple across the nation and a favorite for those who think that a gun and a prayer is the solution for every problem. But Duffy managed to make the best revenge movie since Death Wish.

But honestly, Dafoe in drag? WTF?!!!

Posted by: Fredo at September 1, 2009 8:08 PM


You make me so fucking happy.

"I'll tip her!"

Posted by: Sean at September 1, 2009 8:36 PM

I have a retarded colleague who shows this movie the last day of teh year to all of his cool classes. Yes, it is a community college. He teaches business.

I like this movie less the more people I meet that love it. But when I saw it in 2000, it was a total surprise and a delight.

Posted by: JimJam at September 1, 2009 9:25 PM

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