I had intended to save The Boondock Saints for my St. Patrick’s Day vault selection, but new shit has come to light. For one, Walking Dead fans such as myself are smack dab in the middle of our mid-season withdrawal. To that end, today Norman Reedus, a.k.a. the Dead‘s Daryl Dixon, turns 43. In honor of his special day, let’s look back at his best known film role.
The Brothers MacManus, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), are easy-going Irish lads who enjoy a good laugh nearly as much as a good pint. On St. Patrick’s Day the boys get into a scrap that culminates in a couple of Russian mobsters dead in an alley. The neighborhood sees them as angels, but FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) sees them as “two ordinary men who were put in an extraordinary situation and they just happened to come out on top.” After walking free, the two see it as a mission from God to rid the world of evil men and decide to pick up where they left off; killing the mobsters and miscreants that plague the streets of South Boston.
My first time seeing The Boondock Saints, like many who’ve seen it, was on DVD. Due to extensive production problems, it ran on only five screens during its release in 1999. Despite this brief run and largely negative critical reception, The Boondock Saints has still managed to become a much-loved action classic.
I couldn’t tell you when I first watched it, but my love for all things starring Willem Dafoe was the most likely driving force behind the rental. The trailer, however, couldn’t have prepared me for Dafoe’s phenomenal performance. When he first appears onscreen as Smecker, he’s accompanied by his own hard-hitting theme song like any good character should. He then goes about dissecting the crime scene in an eccentric manner that belies the aptitude of his deductive skills. From there, Dafoe’s Smecker grows more flamboyant and unmissable. Dafoe is not only chewing the scenery, but spitting it out, dousing it in hot sauce, and masticating it into an unrecognizable pulp with those huge chompers. I’d put his turn as Smecker second only to his Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire. It’s that damned good.
You know what else is good? The action. It’s not large scale, city-block devastating action, but just good ol’ fashioned bloody-as-hell shoot ‘em ups. There is never a dull moment in The Boondock Saints. To add to the the action sequences’ pizzazz, writer-director Troy Duffy has them play out via retelling after showing the resulting carnage. Many times Smecker drives the retelling via his investigations; the most stylish scene is the poker game where Smecker is inserted alongside the brothers and Rocco (David Della Rocco) as they dispense justice. It is during this scene the boys are also introduced to Il Duce, played menacingly by Billy Connolly. Throughout excellent camera work coupled with wisely chosen music make these frenetic, violent scenes unforgettable.
Although I go to the theater on a weekly basis, I forget that some of my favorite movie experiences are from films I saw in the dark of my living room. I hate I never got to see The Boondock Saints on the big screen, but I love that I can relive the joy of Dafoe’s performance and the boys’ unrelenting vigilantism again and again.