Gangster Movie Month: "The Boondock Saints" Review

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This 1999 action/crime/thriller tells the story of Irish fraternal twins who set out to save their hometown Boston, MA from its crime and evil all the while being tracked down by an FBI agent.
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Gangster Movie Month: "The Boondock Saints" Review

-- Rating: Rated R (strong violence, language, and sexual content)
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 21, 2000
Directed by: Troy Duffy
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

What should one do when the law, manipulated by criminals, fails to protect the innocent? Should one obey human laws even when it means submitting to evil? Is it right to use illegal means to cleanse society of evil? Written and directed by Troy Duffy, "The Boondock Saints," amidst scenes of brute violence and gory bloodletting, raises complicated questions about being good and fighting evil. Of course, this cult classic movie raises these questions in the most irreverent manner possible.

The movie traces the journey of two Irish American fraternal twin brothers who, after committing a crime in self-defense, go on an unrestrained campaign against the criminals of Boston. The duo is neither enthused about being praised as Saints by the media nor worried about the legal consequences of their illegal actions.

Connor McManus (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy McManus (Norman Reedus) cross the Russian mafia in a pub brawl during St. Patrick's Day celebrations. When the mobsters target them for revenge, they end up bumping off their would-be killers to save their own lives. This sets up the entry of tough-guy-with-an-attitude FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe).

After convincing Smecker of what really happened, the twins spend the night in a holding cell where they experience an epiphany and receive God's command to fight and destroy evil. This marks the beginning of a sustained assault by the duo on Boston's biggest criminals. Savage and merciless, they perform what they consider a divine duty with ruthless enthusiasm.

The McManus brothers gain an ally when they inadvertently save The Funnyman, David Della Rocco (playing himself), in an encounter where they gun down eight Russian mobsters. Rocco joins the twins when he realizes that Italian mob boss Papa Joe Yakavetta (Carlo Rota) had sent him on a suicide mission. Financing their vigilante campaign by stripping their victims of all valuables, the trio proceeds to target the Russian and Italian crime syndicates operating in Boston.

Papa Joe responds by getting his best contract killer, Il Duce (Billy Connolly), to target the vigilantes. Police investigations help Smecker realize that the McManus brothers are the ones guilty of killing criminals and mobsters. At one deliciously ironic point in the movie, the do-gooders end up being targeted by evil criminals and honest police officers for the same reason-for targeting and destroying evil.

After seeking moral guidance, Smecker decides to help the McManus brothers achieve their goal. This sets up the grand showdown, with the forces of law and vigilantes on one side and the evil criminals on the other side.

Director Troy Duffy, eschewing a fairytale approach, raises several questions related to morality, religious fanaticism, the passivity of good guys, and the predictably short-sighted and populist approach of the media and the masses. Not surprisingly, this cult classic evokes strong reactions among fans and critics alike.

Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus do justice to the transformation of ordinary guys, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, into vigilantes on a divine mission to fight evil. Although the plot does not provide a lot of scope for showcasing their acting skills, the duo do well in highlighting the bitter-sweet relationship that can exist between twins.

Flanery and Reedus, through their performances, make it easier for audiences to identify with the characters. The director has struck a balance between the lead characters' religious fanaticism and ordinary quirks and eccentricities. Connor's penchant of borrowing plans from classic American action movies starring Clint Eastwood and John Wayne and Murphy's unconcealed frustration at such amateurish tactics combine well to strike a connection with the audience.

Willem Dafoe's performance has drawn effusive praise and virulent criticism. That Dafoe managed to elicit such strong reactions is proof of how well he plays his role in the movie. From initially being an agent who does not think twice about bullying a local cop to becoming a believer who goes to the extent of dressing up as a female prostitute to help the twins, Dafoe dominates the character with distinctive élan.

The director refuses to take sides and manages to convey his attitude by ending the movie with a scene where the media is asking ordinary Boston citizens their opinions. Do they consider the Saints to be good or evil? The ironic phrasing of the question is probably symbolic of the inherent contradictions in our moral and legal definitions of the concepts of good and evil.

Rating 4 out of 5