Fox // 1999 // 110 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 2nd, 2009
Brothers. Killers. Saints.
The Boondock Saints has always occupied a strange place in my personal cinematic journey. Whenever the topic of favorite films comes up, I never manage to think of this little late-'90s gem, and most people don't mention it. However, as soon as someone brings it up, the only responses I ever hear are effusive praise and bewildered queries. The film's just a little too mainstream (probably because of its association with college life; most fans seem to be exposed to the film in a dorm setting) to be cult, and not quite mainstream enough to run with the big dogs of the decade, like Pulp Fiction.
The film has also had an odd life on home video. Although the film was released in 1999 (straight to video because of the recent school violence at Columbine), it didn't get a DVD release until 2002. That disc featured the film's R-rated cut, a commentary by the director, and some deleted scenes. A special edition of the film was released in 2006, and it featured an additional commentary and the film's unrated cut. This 2009 Blu-ray disc combines both cuts of the film, plus their extras, into one giant hi-def package.
Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery, Suicide Kings) and Murphy (Norman Reedus, American Gangster) McManus are devout Irish-Catholic Boston boys who work in a meatpacking plant despite their above-average intellects. When their local pub gets taken over by the Russian mob, the pair ends up in a tussle with a low-level enforcer. They kick some Russian ass, but the next day the mobster comes looking for revenge, and the boys have to kill him to defend themselves. This sets them off on two important paths. In public, they become "The Saints" for standing up against organized crime. In private, the brothers decide to become vigilantes, killing evil men, starting with the rest of the Russian mafia. Hot on their trail is flamboyant FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe, Platoon), who seems to have a sixth sense about crime scenes. Not content to let the police handle the Saints, the mob sends mad-dog killer Il Duce (Billy Connolly, The Last Samurai) after the boys, hoping to wipe them out before all the "evil men" in the city are dead.
I think any enjoyment of The Boondock Saints is dependent on how it's first seen. The best way to view Boondock is with no prior knowledge of the plot and without any hype (so please, if you haven't seen the film, just go rent it and finish reading this review later). The movie features some fantastic performances, especially from veterans Willem Dafoe and Billy Connolly. It also has some well-presented violence. Ten years on it will seem a little tame in the bullet ballet and bloodletting departments, but it makes up for that with clever editing and a wonderful sense of glee. Finally, the story doesn't skimp on character and plot. The McManus brothers are an interesting pair, and their vigilante quest is one that many people can easily sympathize with, as the film's ending makes clear. It also helps that the film is chock full of quotable lines.
This Blu-ray disc includes both the R-rated cut of the film initially released on home video as well as the Unrated director's cut. This second cut should be exhibit A in the trail against the MPAA's ratings board. The differences between the cuts are so pathetically negligible in terms of violence that all this cut does is reinforce how capricious the whims of the MPAA are. I almost have sympathy for the ratings board because this film was rated right after Columbine, but that sympathy vanishes when I actually contemplate the cuts that were made. Apparently it's okay to show a guy getting shot in slow motion with blood spurting out his back. However, you can only show it for ten frames, not fifteen, or kids might get the wrong idea. That's generally the substance of the differences between these cuts: a little more slow-motion and a few extra bullet hits. There are no extra subplots or real character bits to be found (you'll have to go to the deleted scenes for that).
Both cuts look equally good on this disc. Neither sets a new bar in terms of hi-def presentation, but both feature strong colors and no significant print damage or artifacts. However, they both look a little dull, without much "pop." It's a definite step up from DVD, but it's not a quantum leap. The audio fares a little better, with very strong use of the low-end, which makes up for the general lack of directionality in the rear.
For extras we get all the stuff that was packed into the previous Special Edition. The director's commentary is a hold-over from the first release and features Troy Duffy discussing the genesis of the script as well as his difficulties with production and distribution. It's a good, but not great track. I get the feeling that if he'd been teamed up with Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery then the track would have been more entertaining and just as informative. The same goes for Connolly's track. He's informative, discussing his role in the film and its impact, but I got the feeling that an interlocutor would have made the track stronger. We also get a little over 15 minutes of deleted scenes. Some of these are better than some of the stuff that made it into the film (although I certainly see why most of it was cut). There are also some hilarious outtakes, and the film's trailer. Considering it's been ten years I would have liked to hear from Dafoe, Flanery, and Reedus about the film's impact on their lives. I guess I'll just have to wait for the Boondock Saints 2 release.
For those with the equipment, this disc is also D-box motion control capable.
If you weren't lucky enough to have seen Boondock Saints before hearing all the hype about it, it's easy to see how you might not be impressed. Pretty much everything good about the film is also a weakness. The acting, if you're not into it, is ridiculously over the top with some very questionable accents. Some of the violence, especially the stuff with techno laid over it, comes off as more pretentious than clever. Also, those McManus kids and their little religious beef could easily be unsympathetic to some viewers. Boondock Saints also screams first movie, like Troy Duffy worked on this script for years, putting every little clever thing he could think of onto the screen. Because of that it could easily seem overstuffed and a little bit "cute" with all the perfect quips for dialogue. Those who have heard the hype about the flick are urged to take it in a spirit of fun, since the movie doesn't take itself too seriously.
My only complaint about this Blu-ray disc is the lack of anything new. Supposedly the gang behind this film was working on the sequel around the time this disc must have been in production, so their absence is understandable, but not much fun. The court will look more kindly on this disc if the sequel's eventual release is a more fully loaded special edition.
The Boondock Saints is a movie dear to my heart, so it saddens me when I can't really recommend this disc to most fans. If you're new to the world of the McManus brothers, then this is all the Boondocks you need. If you're like me and have the old DVD but skipped the DVD release of the director's cut hoping for a hi-def release, then this disc is worth getting for the new cut and Connolly's commentary. If, however, you're a big fan who has the previous DVDs, the audiovisual upgrade isn't worth the extra bucks unless you're a completist.
The Boondock Saints is not guilty, and the McManus brothers are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* D-Box Motion Control