Encouraged by the public's praise, Catholic brothers Conner and Murphy MacManus bring a bloody brand of vigilante justice against Boston's Russian mafia and crimelord Yakavetta.
Every once in a while, a film comes along that becomes inseparable from the controversy that surrounds it. From 'Birth of a Nation' to 'Clockwork Orange,' 'Last Temptation of Christ' to 'Natural Born Killers,' some movies -- for various reasons, good and bad -- become so notorious that whatever cinematic qualities they possess are overshadowed by the din. In the case of 'Boondock Saints,' it's not so much the film's violent nature (and it is violent) as the behind-the-scenes drama from which it sprang that makes it infamous. Directed by a then-cocky young upstart named Troy Duffy who quickly imploded behind the scenes, 'Boondock Saints' is now known as much if not more as a case study in what not to do if you're an aspiring young filmmaker as for its arguable virtues as a hot-wired gangster flick.
The story (also written by Duffy) has great potential. A sort of vigilante B-movie infused with vintage Quentin Tarantino-esque pop culture riffing, 'Boondock Saints' tells the story of two Irish brothers, Connor and Murphy McManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) who find their religious zealotry suddenly fueled by a mob hit gone wrong. Discovering they have more than a taste for killing the supposed scum of the Earth (or, at least, those they deem the scum) that they take to a crusade to clean up the filth of Boston -- the mob, the rapists, the criminals, and the meek -- and go out to save the world in the name of God.
Of course, this doesn't sit too well with the authorities, or the mob itself. Hot on the trail of Connor and Murphy is FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), who attempts to solve the brutal slayings by meticulously reconstructing the crimes. The mob, too, is not happy about the hits against the "family," and sends out its own assassin (Billy Connolly) who is hired to take down the McManus brothers. Needless to say, all these threads configure in one violent, bloody conclusion... and the results make a car crash look like fun.
The saga behind the making of 'Boondock Saints' was well-documented in the 2003 film 'Overnight' (which, sadly, is not included on this Blu-ray as a supplement). Duffy, apparently so flush with a $15 million budget courtesy of the Weinstein Brothers, suddenly went ballistic and bit the hand that fed him. Blacklisted, disgraced and universally despised by the industry, Duffy went about raising a reduced $6 million budget from private financiers, only to realize that after all of the hard work and drama, his film would never see the light of a theatrical release. Eventually going direct-to-video, 'Boondock Saints' has become a cult item, and Duffy became a pariah on par with Mickey Rourke (albeit before his recent comeback with 'The Wrestler').
All of this has little to do, actually, with the final product. Watching 'Boondock Saints' today, on its own terms, is a bit less exciting than reveling in the controversy that surrounded its making. Indeed, 'Boondock Saints' borrows so heavily from the Tarantino school of self-conscious crime filmmaking that it feels more like pastiche than homage. That's not to say the film doesn't have some fun moments, fine performances and plenty of gratuitous violence to entertain us. But look under the hood, and Duffy's filmmaking is so naive and self-conscious that his intended themes get thrown out a bit too easily with the bath water.
Duffy's sheer enthusiasm at first won me over. Like the better impulses of Tarantino (or even Robert Rodriguez on a good day), he isn't afraid to muck with genre and convention. 'Boondock Saints' makes bold jumps in time, and is visually kinetic (or, depending on your point of view, simply frenetic). I also like that Duffy went for some big ideals, and tackles such weighty topics as the inseparable link between religious zealotry and retribution, as well as the very thin line between the long arm of the law and vigilantism. But just when the film's story turns get interesting, or the film threatens to give us a character we may actually care about, Duffy falls prey to throwing in an ironic post-modern gag, or goes for the easy pop culture reference. I find this style of self-conscious filmmaking, well, self-conscious. I wish Duffy had believed in his story more, and was less interested in simply aping cool, hip auteurs like Tarantino.
Perhaps this battle between filmmaker narcissism and grander sensibilities is the true legacy of 'Boondock Saints.' It's a film that is not as interesting as 'Overnight,' and whatever its considerable entertainment value, feels more like a cautionary tale that should be shown at every film school in the world. I liked a good deal of the movie, and it certainly looks as if there was potentially something terrific here waiting to get out. As it is, 'Boondock Saints' is an interesting mishmash that never quite gels into the minor classic it could have been.
Fox presents 'Boondock Saints' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.35:1). Both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film are available from the main menu, via seamless branching. This is the first high-def release for the film, and unfortunately it's not all that impressive. This does offer some upgrade over the standard DVD, but I didn't find it substantial.
The film's source remains sketchy. There is heavy grain in spots, and a fair amount of print defects, including blemishes and dirt. Black levels are solid, and contrast a bit hot but otherwise well balanced. The image only pops sporadically, hampered by scenes with limited depth and visible fine texture that wavers from shot to shot. Colors are nicely saturated, however, and relatively clean. Fleshtones are generally warm. Finally, Fox has produced a nice encode, and despite the grain there is less noise than I expected. All in all, a decent if far from great high-def transfer.
The audio is a bit better than the video. 'Boondock Saints' gets a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) that's lively and engaging.
Surround use is quite active. I loved the almost constant barrage either gunfire, loud score and songs, and sustained ambiance. This mix is nothing if not bombastic, so don't expect subtlety, but at loud volumes it's quite fun. Dialogue holds surprisingly strong throughout, with only a few moments when I struggled to make out speech in the din. The mix is also quite dynamic, with nice differences between highs and lows. Only some hard brightness on the high-end irritates. Low bass is strong and supple. This is a fun, loud, and aggressive mix.
'Boondock Saints' previously hit DVD as a two-disc special edition. There are not as many extras as one would think given the dual platters, but all those features are transplanted here. Note that the biggest omission is the documentary 'Overnight,' which was made in 2003 about 'Boondock Saints' very troubled production -- it would have made a great bonus. As is, video quality of the extras is poor with materials in 480i/MPEG-2 only.
'Boondock Saints' is a tough and gritty crime film with plenty of flaws, but more than enough energy to spare. This Blu-ray is likewise -- dodgy video is bolstered by great audio, and there are some fine supplements. I hoped for more of an upgrade here over the standard DVD, but fans of 'Boondock Saints' should give this Blu-ray a look.