Sunday, March 17, 2013

"The Boondock Saints"

In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm reviewing my favorite Irish-themed movie.

The main characters in this 1999 cult classic are Irish-Catholic fraternal twin brothers living in Boston named Connor and Murphy MacManus. The action begins on Saint Patrick's Day. Connor and Murphy, fresh from morning Mass and a shift at the local meat-packing plant, are drinking in their favorite bar when a couple of hulking thugs come in and tell everyone to leave. The Russian Mafia has moved into the neighborhood, taken control of the pub, and refused to renew the owner's lease.

The Russian street soldiers learn a very valuable lesson: Never mess with an Irish bar, especially not on Saint Patrick's Day. The MacManus brothers, their Italian friend Rocco, and a bunch of other bar patrons mercilessly beat up the Russians. The next morning, the Russians are found dead in an alley. The Boston police arrive on the scene and call in an FBI agent named Smecker, who works in the organized crime division.

Smecker quickly reveals that "eccentric" is not nearly a strong enough word to describe his personality and just as quickly assesses the crime scene. He says this was no mob hit; it looks too personal. He follows a handful of clues to the 5th floor of a warehouse that's been converted into illegal loft housing. It just so happens that the occupants of this loft are Connor and Murphy, which makes them prime suspects.

Back at the station house, Smecker is furious because someone involved in the investigation leaked information to the press. The homicide detectives are beginning to think catching the Russians' killer or killers will be next to impossible. Suddenly, the MacManus twins appear in the squadroom. They're covered in blood, bruised, and wearing nothing but boots, underwear, and shabby bathrobes.

Over coffee and doughnuts in the interrogation room, Connor and Murphy explain about the bar brawl. Somehow, the now-dead Russians figured out where the brothers lived and came looking for revenge. They handcuffed Connor to the toilet and dragged Murphy outside, intending to shoot him in the head and throw his body in the dumpster. But Connor managed to break free and the brothers sent the Russians to their doom. 

Connor tells Smecker he only killed the Russians to save his twin's life. Smecker doesn't push for charges to be filed because the confession, when coupled with the rest of the evidence, points to a textbook case of self-defense. An article on the MacManus v. Russian Mafia case appears in the next day's newspaper; the writer has dubbed the twins "The Saints of South Boston."

More Mafiosos begin to turn up murdered. Smecker knows Connor and Murphy are responsible for these deaths. He believes they're doing the right thing in ridding the city of filth, yet he is duty-bound to uphold the law; he must hunt the brothers down and put an end to the killings.

The movie has a typical shoot-'em-up action plot, but it also deals with complex themes and issues such as the true nature of evil, media sensationalism of crime, the definition of justice itself, and vigilantism. The deeper issues are not forcefully crammed down the audience's throat, but rather conveyed in an almost passive manner. It doesn't tell you whether to think of Connor and Murphy as heroes or villains; that's something you have to decide for yourself.

Symbolism plays a big role in this movie, particularly religious symbolism. If you are Catholic or just know quite a bit about Catholicism, you might enjoy the movie more. There are subtle touches that you might not be able to pick up on or understand if Catholicism is a complete mystery to you.

I really enjoyed the movie. All the actors performed solidly in their roles, especially Sean Patrick Flanery as Connor. Sean was born in Louisiana and raised in Texas, but he executes a flawless Irish accent that never wavers. The characters were compelling. The script offered an interesting new take on the archetypes of outlaw folk heroes and "avenging angels." 

However, this isn't a movie for everyone. It's violent and bloody with no shortage of foul language. Catholics may be offended by some of the depictions of Catholicism. Whether or not you like the movie, your reaction to it will be strong. Rare is the action movie that makes you think. The Boondock Saints will and it accomplishes the task with plenty of excitement and style. 

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