Shot over the course of a month on a $6m budget, The Boondock Saints certainly knows how to have a hell of a lot of fun on a dime. Director Troy Duffy crams together several gunfights, dangling hitmen on a rope, the talent of Willem Dafoe, and a sharp "Robin Hood" complex about the two focal characters, all of which find a strong marriage between cheeky intelligence and rambunctious humor within a deceiving action shell. It's an indie movie through and through, as shown through nomenclature visual aesthetics and punchy, blunt dialogue, but the amount of bravado it musters up has garnished it a worthy cult following -- and rightfully so, because it's a gripping, amusing picture.
Duffy's film captures two twin Irish American brothers, Conner (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy McManus (Norman Reedus), as they begin a bizarre, murderous trek with a presupposed blessing from God pressing them forward. After killing a pair of Russian mobsters in self-defense following a bar brawl, they experience a "calling" to continue their path of destruction on evildoers. They're just two normal, fairly aggressive kids in the wrong environment with the right sort of propulsion behind their drive, yet they quickly become a face of righteousness. But they've got a problem: Smecker (Willem Dafoe), an intelligent and snarky FBI investigator, is hot on their trail. But even as he gets closer and closer to the now-legendary Boston saints, he himself begins to question whether their executions are a work of crime -- or an act of justice.
It's easy to see why The Boondock Saints flopped during its minuscule theatrical release. The concept of a semi-realistic movie about two God-minded renegade Irishmen taking bloody justice into their own hands isn't exactly the most attractive of topics. Yet, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't have at least an inkling of a wish that there was a pair of assassins doing in all the drug dealers, rapists, and general "bad men" that the police force can't properly exterminate. Witnessing a form of "divine call" for these Latin-spewing assailants feels both righteous and dirty, especially when Duffy's script dives into micro-dissecting the varying degrees of evil. The key thing to take away from The Boondock Saints is that it's more of a violent, blood-drenched farce with a shadow of retrospect, one that taps into exciting gunfights and tongue-in-cheek quotables to accentuate its Tarantino-esque ultra-violence.
It also showcases a hell of a flamboyant performance from Willem Dafoe as the uber-masculine gay investigator, a rigid guy who listens to classical music at his crime scenes and tosses out cracking one-liners at those around him. Taking elements from William Petersen's FBI agent in Manhunter and a few spritzes of Hugo Weaving from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Dafoe swirls together an electric personality with Smecker with plenty of the actor's signature panache. Watching him lambast and dance circles around the Boston police department becomes pretty darn entertaining, but his true strength comes out as we watch him slither around crime scenes and physically re-enact the events that took place.
In comes one of Troy Duffy's unique, effective low-cost tricks, as he plants Dafoe in the middle of the action to show his perception of their deviant minds -- and allow for a taste of foreshadowing to Smecker's connection with the twins. Time structure becomes a coy plaything in The Boondock Saints, as there's hardly anything chronological. We always see the crime scenes -- and Smecker investigating them -- before we actually see the actual killings. Based on the clock-and-dagger brutality of all this, it can be imagined that the "saints" will influence the Bostonian media and denizens with their crusade, but watching the way it tinkers with Smecker's resolve, both visually and mentally, becomes the real draw to the hunk of thought underneath the picture.
As Dafoe gives hints of weight to the twins' actions by way of his own character's conflicts, Flanery and Reedus' part-sober, simple-minded delivery of the McManus brothers counterbalance the film's internally-perceived importance of their assassination with a sense of rambunctiousness. The Boondock Saints doesn't try overly hard to make charismatic entities out of the two brothers, keeping the subtle message of normal people doing God's work in mind. Interestingly, there's not much to say about their performances due to their humorous simplicity, which allows for all the other sources of raucous energy to take over in place of lead charisma. Low character dynamics for the leads actually benefit the big picture; heck, they even enlist a friend of theirs named "The Funny Man" (David Della Roc) to change the dynamics up amid the good-doing killers.
The Boondock Saints shifts into a black comedy early on with a pinch of brains for every bucket of stylish blood spilled, one not completely unlike 2008's In Bruges by illustrating a human bond between lethal individuals with a mind for decency. Vigilantism seems to get off a bit easy here, especially since Troy Duffy has indicated several times that his influence comes from the unresolved crime that took place around his neighborhood. But he keeps that factor in check, adding in as much absurdity and fun-poking iconic posturing for the McManus brothers as he can to alleviate the tone. It's all highly enjoyable, to say the least; you'll find yourself alternating between laughing and cringing throughout -- especially during the film's pinnacle scene involving an unfortunate cat -- but also walking away without feeling like the whole she-bang was nothing but surface-level gags.
Fox have presented The Boondock Saints in this re-released "10th Anniversary Truth and Justice Edition", which again contains the marginally-different Theatrical and Unrated cuts of the film (which you can select as soon as the first menu pops up). Along with a cardboard slipcover and alternate artwork, a second Digital Copy disc has been included for usage on portable devices. The menu design has been spruced up to reflect the new case design as well.
Video and Audio:
Fox have recycled the audiovisual elements from the previous '09 release for this Truth and Justice Edition, so the comments leveled on that disc have been replicated for the purposes of this review:
Generally, Fox's Blu-ray presentation for The Boondock Saints is a pleasing visual affair, if a bit on the flat and grainy side. Working off of a 1080p AVC encode that captures the 2.35:1 print, the image becomes an exercise of strong contrast usage and natural, albeit slightly red-leaning tonality. There's not a whole lot of color to leap out of the print, but the saturation levels are controlled and apt throughout. Impressive texture usage pops out in spots, like against brick or stone backdrops and on clothing, while detail also gets lost in the film's heavy level of grain -- organic in spots, a little heavier in others. The image does lack the kind of dimensionality that highlights many recent Blu-ray releases, leaving it feeling slightly even-leveled in broader shots. What bothers me most is the visible damage present in the print, from dark, occasional blips to a few hairline scratches in some places. It's a fairly sharp image, staying mostly free of noise-reduction and edge-enhancement (noticed some mild halos in mid-range scenes), which is close to the best that this low-budget film can look.
The same assessment goes for the audio, as the DTS HD Master Audio sounds pretty strong for its pennies-for-a-budget limitations. It's not horribly dynamic -- only showing a few splashes of rear channel usage with the pulsing music and occasional ambience -- but the overall usage of mid-range and lower-level bass gets the job done well. It sounds like it's mixed a little low, as I had to crank up my receiver just few notches to get the audio level transparent enough for viewing. Plus, it's tough to make out the McManus brothers' gruff Irish accents without pumping up the volume a bit, as they get engulfed in ambient effects and the like. Everything spoken by non-accented individuals, especially from Dafoe and Rocco, were clear and solid to the ears. The sound effects and musical accompaniment are also quite clear, from the shutter of a camera to the numerous gunshots throughout. Minus a few instances of waning clarity, this Master Audio track does its part in adding to the film's natural, gritty feel. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are available with the sole English track.
The Boondock Saints - The Film and the Phenomenon (28:56, HD AVC):
To justify the purchase of this Blu-ray, Fox needed to deliver something a bit above-and-beyond somewhere on this disc. The closest thing to come to that, obviously, is the sole new special feature, which features director Troy Duffy, McManus Brothers Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus, and David Della Rocco as they sit down for a round-table-style retrospective for The Boondock Saints. They discuss the casting process -- revealing the way Troy wrote the McManus brothers with him and his brother in mind -- and the bond between Flanery and Reedus while shooting the film, while they have a great time chatting about non-scripted moments, the humorous effect Willem Dafoe had on the rest of the crew (along with his excitement over the "cross-dressing" sequence), and Billy Connolly's joking off-screen in between his stone-faced takes. The piece moves towards discussion of the gunplay and "saintly acts" in the film, falling on setting up the scenes and the actors' training (or lack thereof in Rocco's case) needed, as well as chatting about the fans latching on to the one-liners and cult status of the film. It's a lot of fun to hear them talk about these points, casual but clearly joyful over their feelings regarding the film.
Commentaries with Troy Duffy and Billy Connolly:
We've got two very relaxed commentaries here. First one's from writer/director Troy Duffy, which takes a pretty standard expository tone as he dives into explaining the picture. He goes into the budget constraints, casting decisions, using his friends in his picture, assembly of the 8-man massacre scene, and his on-set epiphanies. There's also some discussion about themes and his artist's creative process throughout the picture, which builds to a casual yet insightful track. Billy Connolly's goes the opposite route, taking an introspective outlook on the entire picture as he speaks. He rarely matches content with the scenes on-screen, but the stuff that he's tossing out is highly engaging to soak in. He talks about the little pleasures in being a filmmaker, about how his daughter discovered that he was in a highly iconic film, and how he enjoyed going onto set with a chest full of gun and a pocketful of condoms filled with fake blood.
Also available are a series of Deleted Scenes (19:09, SD MPEG-2), some rather funny Outtakes (1:32, SD MPEG-2), and a Theatrical Trailer (2:05, SD MPEG-2) that should not be watched until after the film.
The Boondock Saints remains a hefty amount of raucous entertainment draped atop the skeleton of a meaningful idea, which Troy Duffy executes with style while rustling together some of the experiences from his past. He springs off the idea of self-ascribed, judgment-driven vigilantism for lavish slo-mo gunfights and humorous streams of dialogue, which scrapes together a parade of showy violence that's just skim-on-the-top evocative enough for the cult indie actioner's moderate aims. Those who already own The Boondock Saints on Blu-ray, which carries the same audiovisual treatment as this new edition, really only have three reasons to upgrade: alternate artwork, a digital copy option, and the thirty-minute retrospective. Therefore, most casual fans will be just fine hopscotching over this release. However, this package still earns a Recommendation since it looks and sounds suitable and carries over the pertinent special features (aside from the script), while including the lengthy chat with the director and actors that's naturally worth a listen for fans.