March 4, 2013 -- At the Laramie Plains Civic Center's Gryphon Theater's “Movies and Micros” night last Saturday, I took in a well-known cult film, “The Boondock Saints.” I can see why it is a cult film. It is very unusual and interesting. It features some interesting film techniques and an extreme over-the-top, volcanic, memorable performance by Willem Dafoe (he was Norman Osborn in the first three “Spider-Man” movies).
The central characters in the film are the brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy MacManus (Norman Reedus) a couple of blue collar Irish guys enjoying a drink in a Boston tavern when some Russian mafia toughs come in the bar and start throwing their weight around. It ends up in a fight and the Russians end up dead.
The MacManus brothers turn themselves in to police, but they are questioned by a flamboyant FBI agent, Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe). Smecker determines the killings were done in self defense and the MacManus brothers are set free. Since the Russian mobsters will be coming after them next, the MacManus brothers decide to launch a preemptive strike. Using money they robbed from the Russians, the MacManus brothers buy an arsenal of heavy weapons and attack the Russian mobsters at their headquarters, killing them all.
It turns out the MacManus brothers can speak fluent Russian, and they are expert marksmen, too. There is no explanation of where they picked up their deadly skills, but there is a hint their father may have taught them some of this. A friend, Rocco (played by David Della Rocco) helps them for a time, pointing out targets. The MacManus brothers set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner. They decide to kill the criminals who have been terrorizing Boston. They go after organized crime figures and other criminals. Along the way they collect a lot of cash.
As far as vigilante justice goes, this is all very similar to the basic ideas in movies like “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish.” What makes “The Boondock Saints” different is the religious element. The MacManus brothers recite a prayer when they dispatch bad guys. They also refrain from killing women, children and bystanders. Theirs is a kind of holy war. The prayer is a bit reminiscent of Jules Winnfield (played by Samuel L. Jackson) reciting Ezekiel 25:17 before killing people in “Pulp Fiction.”
The stark difference between the motivations of the MacManus brothers and their friend, Rocco, is demonstrated in the scene where Rocco plans to kill Paul Smecker in a church. Rocco is prevented from killing Smecker by the brothers. Their reasoning is that Smecker is a “good man.” Smecker's confession to the priest (Rocco had a gun to the head of the priest) confirms that Smecker is trying to do the right thing. He is torn by his duty to arrest the MacManus brothers, and his admiration for their effectiveness in ridding Boston of dangerous criminals.
There is a certain blessed aura about the MacManus brothers and the rest of their family. It is almost as if their killings are sanctioned by God himself. One even gets the impression that the MacManus family is under the protection of God. This part of the story reminded me a bit of another movie about holy killings, “Frailty.” In that film, the holy mission of the murders and the protection of God is stated overtly. In “Boondock Saints,” the message is the same, but it is implied, rather than being stated overtly. The MacManus brothers are on the side of God, whereas law enforcement officers and the courts are depicted as being irredeemably corrupt.
Willem Dafoe's portrayal of the conflicted homosexual FBI agent is overacted to such an extent that it is hilarious, amazing and entertaining. His is an unforgettable character. Rocco's performance is similarly over the top, but not as memorable. The hit man Il Duce (Billy Connolly of “The X Files: I Want to Believe”) is also effective. Writer-Director Troy Duffy makes good use of flashbacks, including a memorable scene where Paul Smecker imagines himself right in the midst of a re-enactment of a shooting. He literally becomes part of the shooting he reconstructs in his own mind, and Dafoe overacts like crazy, of course. I can see why this is a cult film, but I'm not a member of the cult. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.