Director: Troy Duffy
Screenplay: Troy Duffy
Starring: Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Willem Dafoe, Billy Connolly
Duration: 108 min
BBFC Certification: 18
If there’s one thing we cinephiles love, it’s a film that is surrounded by legend about its production. From the films that were not to be like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune and Tim Burton’s Superman Lives to blockbusters that spiralled out of control – Heaven’s Gate and Waterworld – we do enjoy a good behind the scenes story. And The Boondock Saints is yet another film with an intriguing backstory.
In 1997, Troy Duffy’s script for The Boondock Saints was the subject of a huge bidding war among Hollywood producers, and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein ultimately won, buying the script for a reported $300,000. For Duffy, a barman who claimed to have been inspired to write the story after witnessing a drug dealer steal money from a dead body outside his apartment, this was a dream deal. As well as the purchase of the script, Duffy was offered the director’s chair, and his band, The Brood, would provide the soundtrack. Weinstein even bought a share in Duffy’s bar.
A budget of $15million was set and actors such as Ethan Hawke, Keanu Reeves and Mark Wahlberg were rumoured to be attached. However, Duffy gradually began to sabotage his relationship with Miramax. Reports from the set of Duffy bullying actors and producers led to the studio pulling out of the deal. Eventually, a smaller production company, Franchise Pictures, came on board and the film was made on a budget of $6million. The whole of this story is told in the documentary film, Overnight, which disappointingly is not included on this release as an extra.
The film follows the McManus brothers – Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) – South Boston residents who inadvertently become folk heroes after they kill a couple of small time Russian mobsters in self-defence. After the police release them, the brothers decide to carry out God’s work by becoming vigilantes and start hunting down the city’s lowlifes. Investigating each crime scene is FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), but the closer he gets to apprehending the brothers the more he questions whether their murder spree is morally correct.
The chemistry between Flanery and Reedus is the backbone of The Boondock Saints. They feel like brothers, look like brothers and act like brothers. Duffy has written them as pretty one dimensional characters, but the two actors really bring them to life. Another asset to the film is Willem Dafoe, clearly having a lot of fun playing the flamboyant FBI agent, devouring all available scenery and then looking for more to chew! The supporting cast are also great with David Bella Rocco as the comic relief and cameos from Ron Jeremy as an Italian mobster and Billy Connolly as feared hitman Il Duce.
The Boondock Saints is a far more intelligent film than it is given credit for. It asks questions about vigilantism and morality that lesser action films avoid. Who hasn’t at one time or another fantasised about gunning down some of society’s most depraved criminals? Do we have the right to break the law ourselves to rid the world of those that feed off the vulnerable? What do you do if the police have failed you?
Upon its release in 1999, the film was lambasted by critics as a cheap Tarantino rip off. I think it is a far more original film than that – it may use a similar plot device of non-linear storytelling to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but its use of well-orchestrated gunfights and sly black humour are vastly superior to Tarantino. More importantly, despite its subject matter the film refuses to be po-faced and deadly serious – difficult for a film that so clearly references The Blues Brothers as much as it does Death Wish.
In conclusion, The Boondock Saints, is a highly entertaining film that is worthy of its cult status. It’s a shame that Duffy got himself blacklisted from Hollywood (only making one other film, 2009’s sequel) as here, he shows so much ultimately wasted potential.
The Boondock Saints is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video and includes as extras:
• Audio commentary by writer/director Troy Duffy
• Audio commentary by actor Billy Connolly
• Deleted scenes