It’s fairly easy to see why The Boondock Saints has become a cult classic, and even easier to see the glaring flaws in first time director Troy Duffy’s work. It became a big hit because it allows its audience to live out their fantasies of killing bad people, without actually having to do that, go through the work that’s required, as well as live with the moral repercussions. The final one of those is something that the characters in this film also get to avoid.
The titular Saints are composed of two brothers, Connor and Murphy McManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus), who are Irish-Catholics with the ability to acquire weapons. After killing a Russian mobster, but not being charged because they claimed it was in self-defense, they believe that they experience an epiphany. Apparently, God wants them to go around killing people that they deem to be “evil”, so that’s just what they do for the rest of the film. All the while, flamboyant FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is one step behind them.
After their revelation, the Saints team up with one of their friends, Rocco (David Della Rocco), who acts alongside them, and also picks their targets. This is the same Rocco who has an incredibly shady past, and that’s putting it lightly. I guess that he knows who’s “evil” and who isn’t better than God does. In fact, if they were to get such a thought, he would be one of the first people I’d think they should kill. But I digress, Rocco’s their friend and selective judgment is clearly used here.
The main gimmick of The Boondock Saints is that we’ll see our leads prepping for their killing spree, and then we’ll see them afterward, usually bloodied up a little bit. We’ll then cut to our police team, and have Agent Smecker describe to us what happened, and then we actually get to see it for ourselves. Sometimes, he’ll even act out the scene, while we’re watching it, placing his body inside the action as he describes it. But that only happens once, if I recall correctly, which is probably the most enjoyable action scene in the film, if only because we get to watch Willem Dafoe drop down on his knees and pretend to shoot people with his finger guns.
Unfortunately, this gimmick gets tiring after the first couple of times, and it eventually feels like it happens just to pad the runtime. If we were to watch the film without the police, who are not necessary to the story one iota, we could probably save 20-30 minutes, and we could eliminate an element that isn’t required. Of course, then we’d miss Dafoe overact in almost every scene, which is hilarious, but I think that’s a small price to pay to improve the film somewhat.
These action scene, which have the Saints blow through dozens of people over the course of the film, are somewhat boring. The first one is inventive, and involves the use of a toilet, but after that, they all simply consist of shooting random people. Any time of action scene can get boring if we see it over and over again, and that’s the case here. By the end, I was just wishing to see our leads die, so that at the very least, something would be different.
There are some good moments in the film, mostly coming from the humor interspersed throughout. There are a few moments, particularly early on, when I was laughing. These characters start out as somewhat likable, and I was enjoying being around them. Sadly, they change into almost mute hitmen after they learn of their new goal in life, and their personality is drained and replaced with someone who just wants to kill.
This brings up the moral debate. Are the Saints good people for killing pimps and drug dealers, or are they bad because they’re killing outside of the law? I’ve got to go with the latter on this one, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are just killing people who they (or their troubled friend) deem to be bad, and secondly, their reason for doing so is lacking. Okay, I get it, they’re fairly religious people, (although one of the Ten Commandments is that you shouldn’t kill anyone, so I don’t really know), and they truly believe that God told them to kill people, but shouldn’t they have consulted a priest or something like that? And then they don’t even feel the need to discuss their murders with each other. They come across as sociopaths, not as holy men, and this makes it hard to relate or empathize with them. (This is a problem that a lot of serial killer films have; and, let’s face it: The Saints are serial killers.)
The Boondock Saints is a film that I recommend watching. Not because it’s any good, but because then you can see why it’s a cult classic, and then you can see if you want to join said cult. Hey, maybe you’ll have a good time, be able to ignore its problems like its pacing, boring action scenes, as well as unlikable and unnecessary characters. But I couldn’t. It was a predictable vigilante movie that felt cold and devoid of the heart that it started out with. It’s not terrible, but there are much better action films out there that don’t have to rely on gimmicks to pad their running times.