It's St Patrick's Day in Boston, and the two MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) attend church in the morning of a day that will change their lives. After a minor skirmish at the meat packing plant they work in, they go to their favourite bar, and are enjoying themselves until a couple of Russian Mafia gangsters barge in and start causing trouble. The next day, those two gangsters are found dead in a nearby alleyway, and F.B.I. agent Smecker (Willem Dafoe) visits the crime scene to investigate. With his brilliant mind, he works out that the two were killed by heavy objects falling on them from a great height - in this case, a toilet and a MacManus brother. The brothers decide, after this inauspicious start, to bring a holy vengeance down on the crime lords of Boston, but will Smecker work out their plans?
This frequently absurd action thriller was scripted by the director, Troy Duffy, and could have been just about any low budget thriller that lay forgotten on the shelves of your local video store, but its unexpected originality in a genre full of hackneyed efforts gained it a loyal cult following. The basic storyline could service any number of violent revenge movies, but here the peculiar trappings of religion, homosexuality or just the weird sense of humour bring out the best in not only the plot, but the actors as well. None more so than Willem Dafoe, giving a performance of extreme eccentricity as the gay F.B.I. man who simply has to walk about a crime scene with opera playing on his headphones to get a pretty good idea of what happened.
Those action sequences follow the same, attention-grabbing pattern: the MacManus brothers, who might as well be one person in two separate bodies, get prepared for some serious violence, bristling with weaponry, and then, at the crucial moment, the screen will fade to black. Next we will see Smecker wandering around the bodies a relatively short time after, telling the cops what went on, which will be illustrated by stylish flashbacks to the mayhem. Smecker is a great character, at times camp, other times roaring with rage ("There was a firefight!"), and Dafoe is obviously relishing this offbeat tough guy act, almost overshadowing everyone else in the film, and certainly out-acting them.
The Irish brothers join up with a third party, small time Italian crook Rocco (David Della Rocco), and they all believe they are on a mission from God. Well, the brothers do, at least, and the opening sees a priest tells sermonise about society's true problem being the indifference of good men to evil, which presumably gives the dynamic duo their drive to be vigilantes. However, this theme feels like a gimmick, and is neglected for a fair amount of the running time, only to reassert itself by the end. Mostly it's about the battle of wits between Smecker and his quarry, who he doesn't realise he has already met, thinking the gangland killings are indicative of a brewing war between the Russian and Italian Mafia.
There is a real jolt of energy running through The Boondock Saints, provided by the bloody violence and the odd jokiness. Smecker gets blood on his hands examining a body, then absent-mindedly runs his fingers through his hair; a pet cat is destroyed by an accidental gun blast; strangest of all, Smecker dresses as a female prostitute to infiltrate the baddies' lair, even attempting to seduce one of the guards. Willem Dafoe doesn't make a particularly convincing woman, it must be said, but there are hardly any female characters at all - all the ladies are sidelined by the macho posturing (including Billy Connolly as a crazed hitman). By the end, Smecker is seeing the brothers' point of view, but the film apparently stops short of condoning their actions (although it gets as close as it can) by using fake news footage of ordinary people arguing amongst themselves about the merits of shooting the gangsters first and asking questions later, even if you do believe you have the backing of God Almighty. The ending begs for a sequel. Music by Ian Anderson and Jeff Danna.