Friday, April 15, 2005

The Boondock Saints

The Boondock Saints
Directed by Troy Duffy
1999, rated R
4 stars

Stories of redemption and vengeance often ignore the moral dilemmas of the situations. Usually, the bad guy gets just what he deserves, and the audience knows he deserves it because we’ve been told and seen all the evil things he’s done throughout the entire film. The righteousness of the revenge of the hero is never questioned, because there is no doubt about whether or not it was the right thing to do. The Boondock Saints, directed by Troy Duffy, addresses this moral conundrum—but in an enjoyably entertaining and humorous way.

Connor and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) are Irish twins living in the slums of Boston. Stuck in a dead-end job at a meat packing plant and living in squalor in a one-room apartment, the two still maintain a light-hearted outlook on life, constantly joking and kidding around. Their world, however, is suddenly changed by the unexpected continuation of a bar fight, and the subsequent death of two members of the Russian mafia. Having heard about the terrible crimes this mafia has committed and how the police can do nothing about it, the two decide to take matters into their own hands. Suddenly they realize that their vengeance on the wicked ought to be extended to encompass any committer of evil who crosses their path. With the help of their clueless friend, “Funny Man” Rocco (David Della Rocco), a member of the Italian mafia himself, the duo continues their rampage of redemption.

The Irish joking of the MacManus twins keeps the film upbeat and funny at times when it could turn too dark and depressing. Their playful antics, along with the cluelessness of Rocco, make even the moments one would expect to be dark and serious, such as the shoot-out scenes, absolutely hilarious. Especially entertaining is Willem Dafoe’s performance as Paul Smecker, the federal detective tracking the mysterious cases of the twins. Dafoe’s flippant and arrogant air, combined with his amusingly hyperbolic frustration, make his performance one of the best of the film. Every character, however, is entertaining in his own way, and each works to bring the film together into one harmonious unit. Flanery and Reedus act at times like goofy teenagers, and at others like heroic action figures; Rocco struggles after them like an admiring puppy dog; and Dafoe pirouettes across the screen as if the entire film were his debut ballet performance. Even the minor characters add their own eccentric charm to the whole shebang.

The Boondock Saints incorporates everything good about action films while at the same time adding heart and ambiguity. The shoot-outs are intentionally overdone, complete with big guns, fancy entrances, smoke, dust, blood, and an operatic soundtrack to back it all up. Interesting camera angles and fast cuts add to the chaotic nature of these sequences, but then slows the cuts down for the more relaxed and calmer moments. Dark, moody lighting accompanies seriousness, while brightness and light enhances the more comic moments. Most everything is exaggerated, which keeps the film from sinking to the dark, depressing depths of the moral dilemmas. The film does raise some questions, and raises them well. Unlike other action films that involve vengeance against the wicked, the audience never really sees the evilness of the “villains”; their crimes are mentioned briefly, and then they are gone. Thus the question is raised—is it really right to fight fire with fire? The police are unable to do anything to these powerful criminals, since they always find loopholes to escape through—so is it right that they should be eliminated from society in such a harsh manner?

Perhaps the most effective part of the film is that it doesn’t really take sides. In the end, all opinions are presented, and the audience is left to make up their own minds about the issue. Overall, The Boondock Saints is entertaining, even if you’re not as interested in the moral issues. As an action film it’s excitingly funny, with plenty of humor and bullets. As an analysis of societal morals it’s a little less solid, but still not without merit. And after all, everyone loves the Irish.

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