The Empty Balcony: The Boondock Saints

Every person, whether they be a casual movie viewer, or enough of a film buff that they have written tens of thousands of words about film (heh heh), has holes in their experience of film. There are a lot of movies out there, and there is just not enough time in the day to watch them all. The Boondock Saints is a case in point. Until last night, I had never seen this film, even though it’s on the must-see list for white males of my generation. If I had grown up in the Boston area, I’m sure I would have seen it before now, as watching it is positively de rigueur up there.

The film, written and directed by Troy Duffy, follows a pair of Irish immigrant brothers in Boston, named Connor and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus). They’re devoted Catholics, made clear early in the film, but in the same scene, it’s also made clear that the two of them are unrepentant badasses. Nobody in church looks that cool, but that’s what passes for character development in this movie.

Later, the viewer finds out the brothers have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble, resulting in a couple of Russian gangsters lying dead in an alleyway. Here, the film enters into a somewhat disjointed method of storytelling, as the MacManuses begin to cut a bloody swath through Boston’s criminal organizations. We viewers always seem to show up on the scene after the fact, accompanying FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) as he investigates the deaths, narrating his deductions as the reality plays out on screen in flashback. The most interesting aspect of this method is that, as the film progresses, what was, early on, straight flashbacks, become more and more muddled with current events in the movie’s timeline, like there’s a progression of decay where violence and Dafoe will soon meet without any need for speculation. If that was Duffy’s intent, then well done. If it was accidental, then no matter.

The film bounces around from set piece to set piece, always resulting in the Brothers MacManus dealing death, alongside one of their friends, an angry and bumbling hood named David Della Rocco, played by David Della Rocco (no misprint). Apparently, the three of them have decided that Boston is too full of scoundrels and ruffians, and that is why they have decided to start shooting just about every gangster they can find. Instead of The Boondock Saints, this film could have been called The Sudden Vigilantes, for all the thought the characters put into their actions. That’s a common affliction throughout the plot. It’s a muddled mess. Inconsistencies abound, as if Mr. Duffy couldn’t be bothered with subtleties such as coherence. When there isn’t any shooting going on, what’s on screen is mere filler. This is not the type of film that rewards thinking.

As for the four main cast members, their performances were enjoyable enough. I’d recommend Rocco in small doses only, though. Flanery and Reedus were properly understated through most of the film, and unflappable for the most part, just like badasses are supposed to be. Being a pair of Americans by birth, they let their accents slip here and there, but I’m not Irish enough to care.

Then there was Willem Dafoe. He doesn’t bother playing the typical FBI agent in this movie. His character is a bit of a sonofabitch capable of flamboyant behavior. It’s hard to tell if he was playing things for laughs. He was certainly intense. While he was every bit as uneven as the film itself, there were parts that Dafoe absolutely nailed.

The Boondock Saints does not measure up to its cult film credentials. I can see how it would give young males a hard-on, but the film is just about all flaws; it’s almost consumed in total by them. Half the time I was watching it, I felt like I was wasting my time. The only enjoyment I got out of it was by letting myself free fall into the spectacle, and that almost didn’t work.