Despite common belief, John Woo is actually a bigger influence for indie filmmakers than Quentin Tarantino. It’s just that Tarantino-inspired films get bigger release, while the Woo-inspired films get relegated to the back bins of mom and pop video stores. Troy Duffy’s 1999 “Boondock Saints” is a merging of Woo and Tarantino, and it’s one of the better movies out there because it manages to straddle both genres with flair and, most important of all, great effectiveness.
“Boondock Saints” stars Sean Patrick Flanery (“Powder”) and Norman Reedus (“Blade 2”) as Irish brothers Connor and Murphy, respectively, who after getting on the bad side of some Russian mobsters decide to become vigilantes and rid the world of evil men. That in a nutshell describes the main motivations for the two leads. Of course being vigilantes in a town like Boston, which is infested with gangsters and criminals of all elements (or at least according to the film), the boys have a lot of work to do. Luckily they’re close-knit to the point where they can decide to “go wild” with a simple look. It also helps that although the brothers work in a meat packing plant, they seem to be able to speak every language ever invented and have the killing skills of trained assassins. Who are these guys, anyway?
“Boondock Saints” is one hell of a bloody film. It’s wall-to-wall action and the bullets fly as easily as people breathe. Blood is splattered, bodies pile up, and when all is said and done, “Boondock Saints” is probably one of the most violent and bloody action movies I’ve ever seen. Even John Woo might have turned slightly pale at the carnage happening onscreen. Yet writer/director Troy Duffy orchestrates the bloodbaths with such gleeful insanity that it’s hard not to “get into” the film. Okay, it’s oozing with blood, but they all seem to be having so much fun doing it! (Except for the victims, of course.)
The most charming thing about “Boondock Saints” is just how likeable the two main characters are despite being cold-blood killers. More than once Connor and Murphy executes men without mercy, and yet they have such compassion and trust for one another and those they call friends that you can’t help but like them and want to be their friends. These are the kinds of guys you can count on, the kind who will watch your back come hell or high water. They’re true friends and true brothers, and maybe that’s why it’s so hard to see them as anything besides “nice boys” who’ve decided to rid the world of evil influences.
When the brothers start making a name for themselves, they take on a third man in Rocco (David Della), a bag man for the mob who dreams of getting even with his employers/tormentors. Rocco is slightly “off” and provides the film with a lot of laughs as well as some very offbeat moments. Besides a gathering of mobsters hunting for the boys, Willem Dafoe also shows up as a gay (and very eccentric) FBI agent who has a soft spot for our Irish lads and may or may not be sympathetic to their burgeoning roles as the saints of the title. Comedian Billy Connolly shows up in an oddly effective role as the Duke, a notorious mob hitman who is currently serving a life sentence in a jail cell that would make Hannibal Lector jealous.
Calling Duffy’s work a marriage of Woo and Tarantino is a little unfair, since I’ve always said (and will continue to say) that even Woo and Tarantino were “influenced” by someone else that came before them. Of course I wouldn’t give Duffy such a label if it weren’t so obvious that he is heavily influenced by Woo’s sense of style and action and Tarantino’s snappy dialogue and nonlinear narrative. “Boondock Saints” skips through time and treats flashbacks and slow motion sequences as if they’re going out of style.
Yet, Troy Duffy and cinematographer Adam Kane has fashioned a fine action film here. Although I do have a slight problem with the film’s lack of plotting. After the boys accidentally wipe out the local Russian mob, they decide to become vigilantes, and bounce from hit to hit without any real purpose except to, well, kill more people. Of course it also never occurs to the boys that they’ve become criminals themselves, and have also become accomplices to Rocco’s wanton slaughter of innocents at a soda shop and a peep show. (Somehow I doubt if pleasuring yourself to a stripper in a private booth qualifies as being “evil men.”) Some of “Boondock Saints”‘s nagging questions are answered towards the end, but the film still feels a little disjointed in the arena of character motivations.
“Boondock Saints” is a slick film with action that, although exciting in execution, is really nothing new. The most you can ask for is a film that does what it does well, which “Saints” does accomplish. One can only hope that writer/director Troy Duffy will find a distinctive voice in future work, because he certainly has the visual flairs necessary to have a long career in action filmmaking.
Troy Duffy (director) / Troy Duffy (screenplay)
CAST: Willem Dafoe …. Paul Smecker
Sean Patrick Flanery …. Connor MacManus
Norman Reedus …. Murphy MacManus
David Della Rocco …. Rocco
Billy Connolly …. Il Duce