Probably one of the biggest cult films in recent years to never actually gain a theatrical release, "Boondock Saints" arrived on video shelves a year or two ago and took off from word-of-mouth. Apparently, the film was the subject of a bidding war once the screenplay was done, but never really came together as a major studio project after issues with casting and other aspects couldn't be worked out. A Canadian import DVD edition gained interest, but reportedly didn't offer much of a presentation. Although the title has been delayed once, Fox has realized the audience for the film and delivered the picture with a Special Edition DVD release.
After watching the picture, I can understand why it's gained such an audience. While it's been compared to films by Quentin Tarantino and several other filmmakers (it occasionally reminded me of Guy Ritchie's "Snatch", which came two years later), the picture manages to make these aspects seem fresh.
The film revolves around Conner and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus), two Irish-American brothers who are enjoying life and work when a couple of thugs attempt to break up their favorite bar, they get into a fight. They wake up, finding out that they obviously didn't win the fight and are in serious trouble. When they take out their attackers and get away, they get away since they were defending themselves.
Believing that they are on a religious mission, the two brothers begin attempting to take down many of the biggest criminals in the city. While they become local heroes, they are also being followed by an FBI agent (Willem Dafoe) who doesn't know quite what to think of the actions of the brothers.
The film offers performances that are above-average for this kind of straight-to-video material. Dafoe is intense and effective as the FBI agent on the trail of the two brothers, while Flannery and Reedus have decent presence as the brothers - their performances aren't memorable, but they work for the roles. The dialogue is, as you'd expect, full of foul language, but there's also some memorable exchanges of dialogue, as well.
The film has several creative sequences, including one where Dafoe's FBI agent literally is in the midst of one of the flashback sequences, talking about what is going on. The film is extremely stylish, but director Duffy manages to use various tricks without going overboard. Music, including everything from opera to electronic, is also very well-used.
"Boondock Saints" isn't a film without some flaws here and there: the film is often powerful and energetic, but it doesn't quite uphold the intensity and tension consistently. A few minutes here and there throughout the film's 110 could have been cut to make the pace a little stronger. The ending is not an entirely satisfactory wrap-up to the picture, either, as if the filmmakers weren't quite sure how best to conclude the film.
Duffy's debut offers fine direction, a solid sense of style, very good writing, solid construction of atmosphere and a fine idea of how to approach the tone. It's certainly not a flawless picture, but it's one that impressed and surprised me.
While the documentary "Overnight" has since brought to light the controversies and Duffy's difficult nature, "Saints" still maintains a strong following, as evidenced by this new unrated edition. The new footage - some additional graphic violence likely cut due to the MPAA - isn't much, but the DVD set at least does offer fans the chance to see the new cut, as well as an improved presentation of the film itself.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) by 20th Century Fox. The presentation quality is a step-up from the Special Edition DVD, which was a step-up from the original DVD release. Sharpness and detail are the most noticeable improvements this time around, as while the lower-budget picture understandably still doesn't look crystal clear, detail does look crisper and cleaner this time around.
There are a few assorted flaws present, but nothing of too great a concern. Issues include some slight edge enhancement in a few scenes, a bit of occasional dirt and debris on the print used and a couple of instances where a trace or two of pixelation was spotted. Colors (understandably, given the material) remained subdued, but appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film is presented on Blu-Ray in DTS-HD 5.1. The film's soundtrack is a mildly aggressive one, but also one that feels a little low-budget in nature. Although the film is mostly dialogue-driven, the surrounds occasionally enter in to offer some music or sound effects, as well. Additionally, the music sometimes gets a bit too much presence, overshadowing some other elements of the soundtrack. Dialogue was generally clear and easily understood. The DTS-HD option on the Blu-Ray did provide some improvements in audio quality, as the soundtrack sounded smoother and a little more detailed than the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation from the DVD.
EXTRAS: writer/director Troy Duffy offers a commentary for the theatrical cut of the film, as does actor Billy Connolly. Duffy's commentary offers a reasonable amount of details on the production, as the writer/director discusses casting, filming on a lower budget and more. Connolly's commentary has some noticeable pauses of silence, but the actor's good humor makes up for it and results in an enjoyable track. Fans should consider taking a listen to both.
Also included is other material from the Special Edition DVD release. Included are: seven deleted scenes, a few minutes of outtakes, the trailers for "Donnie Darko" and "Boondock Saints", filmographies. Finally, also included is the film's script. This title is also D-Box enabled for those with D-Box systems in their home theater.
Final Thoughts: "Boondock Saints" isn't without some issues, but it's a largely well-acted, intense indie drama/thriller debut from director Troy Duffy. The unrated cut doesn't add much, but fans will enjoy seeing it. The Blu-Ray edition boasts improved audio/video quality, as well as a return of the extras from the prior Special Edition. Recommended.
The Film B-