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The Boondock Saints (1999)

by on 2013/03/02

The Boondock Saints (1999)

“I’m strangely comfortable with it.”

* * * *

Okay, now this is over-the-top ultra-violence done right. No slapstick, no excess gimmickry. It’s like the highlights of others before and since, distilled into an intoxicating rush. If It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia had an episode called “The Gang Lowers the Crime Rate” it might look a little bit like The Boondock Saints.

Let’s get some more comparisons over with before I carry on with the compliments: The Brothers McMullen Kick Ass . . . Daredevil vs Hannibal Lecter . . . Dexter the Silent Partner

Okay, I’ll stop.

The McManus brothers (Powder’s Sean Patrick Flanery and The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus) are god-fearing Irish boys in Toronto-as-Boston. Through a friend of theirs (David Della Rocco) they’re pulled into a war between the Italian and Russian Mafia. Initially acting in self-defence, they prove almost supernaturally gifted in killing criminals. Their spree alerts the attentions of an FBI agent (eXistenZ’s Willem Dafoe) and a Mob-hired fixer called Il Duce (Fido’s Billy Connolly).

It’s certainly violent, yet never exploitative, and the language is unusually coarse, but the entire affair manages to walk its lines successfully, not least between homage and originality. I haven’t seen a fight with a toilet before. Or thought about the difficulties involved in air vent infiltration. This film employs the best of its fellows, with some new tricks up its sleeves. The agent even realizes midway the perps’ methods don’t make sense; they’re not doing things logically, they’re doing what they’ve seen in the movies.

I’ve seen the contention that Boondock Saints is a cut-rate Tarantino rip-off. I don’t agree. You could say of violent non-linear plots that film noir arrived long ago. And Pulp Fiction’s quoted scripture is just “some cold-blooded shit to say to a mother-fucker before I popped a cap in his ass” . . . a far cry from the spiritual fervour which drives the McManuses’ mission.

This is more an amusing procedural, where the cops tour a series of crime scenes, slowly coming to empathize with their quarry. Whodunit is revealed immediately. The tension is mostly in Dafoe’s character, who must balance a competent investigation with the protection of vigilantes he admires.

The production reflects his evolution. At first, it levels a relatively objective lens at his agent’s personal eccentricities. Then, as time goes on, it intercuts the investigation with flashbacks, eventually immersing him in the past as if he were an astral projection, until he’s fully a part of the brothers’ world. It’s a visually compelling progression from ignorance, through insight, understanding, and acceptance.

One caveat. Despite its fair treatment of its homosexual characters, this piece has almost no female roles, and those few who do appear are less than flattering examples. Ostensibly it’s a movie by men, about men, and for men – including men who love men – existing in a reality devoid of the Bechdel test.

And I’m not even going to entertain the possibility it suggests in debating justice. For all its dialogue and end-credit streeters arguing pros and cons, The Boondock Saints is clearly “with” the anti-heroes  While I applaud at least gesturing at other points of view, the reason to see this is the ride. It glorifies their exploits with humour, style and pacing. It’s lots of fun if you have the appropriate mindset . . . which, admittedly, may be a disjointed one.

* * * *

Rated 18A

110 minutes (Extended Director’s Cut)

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