½*/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B-
starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr., Billy Connolly
written and directed by Troy Duffy
by Alex Jackson The first thing I did when I got a FACEBOOK account was look up Travis, my best friend from gradeschool, whom I hadn't seen or heard from in the last twenty years. Looking at his profile, I saw that he listed "extensive" under music and "way too many to list here" for books, but under movies he had just one title: The Boondock Saints. The bands and books he loves are too numerous to mention, but there is a film that, in his mind, towers above all others. There is only one film that bears mentioning. And that film is Troy Duffy's The Boondock Saints. Is it petty of me to not put in that "friend" request? This seems to be all the update I need. Twenty years is a long time. The only things we really had in common were that we both went to the same school and both liked Nintendo and The Monster Squad. That's hardly enough to inoculate a friendship against The Boondock Saints.
According to WIKIPEDIA, Duffy wrote the original The Boondock Saints after witnessing a drug dealer steal money from a corpse across the hall from his apartment. Yet, strangely, the film lacks much in terms of outrage. Its villains are more crude than truly evil. Where the pimp in Taxi Driver had a 12-year-old girl in his stable and the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry raped and killed a teenaged girl, the Mafioso villains in The Boondock Saints hardly do anything more grievous than tell "nigger" jokes and go to strip clubs. (To be completely reductive about it, it's the rare vigilante movie without a hint of sexual violence.) I think they're the bad guys mainly because they're Italian-American and Duffy and the Saints (Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus) are playing for Team Irish.
Troy Duffy is an authentic, according-to-Hoyle racist in that he believes his ethnic group is superior to all other ethnic groups. The greatness of the Saints (and by implication Troy Duffy) is not anything that needs to be proven--it merely needs to be asserted. Fundamentally, when Duffy saw that drug dealer steal from that corpse, he wasn't thinking about how powerless he feels and how he wishes there were kick-ass superheroes like the Boondock Saints able to protect those who cannot protect themselves. No, what he was thinking was something along the lines of, "I'm better than that garbage." There's nothing particularly brave about arguing that child molesters and rapists deserve to be shot, though what Duffy does is cheaper and lazier yet. His racism is transgressive in a way that flatters his core audience while doing nothing to make them uncomfortable. If you reject the film, it's not because it's tickling keys on your emotional piano you would prefer not to be touched. It's because you don't share Duffy's derision towards anybody who isn't exactly like him.
There are a few moments in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day where Duffy appears to be embracing a relatively conventional vigilante ethos. That is to say, he actually gets our blood boiling a bit and we begin hating the bad guys instead of simply feeling repulsed by them. There's a flashback showing a storekeeper getting beaten, tortured, and killed for not paying his protection money. Too, I sort of appreciated a late plot development involving the betrayal of Il Duce (Billy Connolly) by his childhood best friend. This is all considerably more volatile than anything in the first film. But the violence in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day still overwhelmingly feels more like ethnic-cleansing than it does authentic vengeful rage. The Saints are Great Men, put on this earth to eradicate those inferior to them. That plays as offensively as it sounds, but it's also very boring to watch. There's no real conflict in the film. Lacking the primal structure of the traditional vigilante flick, where the hero's loved ones are murdered and he takes out those responsible, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day rambles on and on, detailing a needlessly convoluted plot I couldn't bring myself to care much about.
My principal objection to these films, however, continues to be their onslaught of homophobic attitudes. We hear detectives talk about being "jungle fucked" by big elephant dicks without getting a reach-around. The Saints tease each other about dying their hair a "faggoty blonde." Their sidekick Romeo (Clifton Collins Jr.) is given a small gun and complains, "Why don't you just make me your girlfriend?" He goes on to characterize this little gun as "faggoty." And so on. This isn't even political correctness or social conscientiousness on my part. It's an issue of aesthetics. Duffy is terrified of people seeing him as a "fag." He views homosexuals as weak--or, at least, they're weak in so far as they are the passive receiver. And yet, he is obsessed with hairy man ass, big veiny cocks, and the way those two things fit together.
The MPAA has rated The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day R for "bloody violence, language, and some nudity." On a very basic level, this strikes me as false advertising. We watch as the Saints lather up in the shower, and later we're treated to a full-frontal shot of an overweight gangster who has been interrupted from his massage. But any action fan looking at the MPAA warning of "some nudity" while studying the case at the video store would reasonably assume that the nudity refers to either the villain's ornamental concubines or a brief sex scene. The movie isn't lizard-brained in the right way. (While the Neveldine/Taylor oeuvre is hardly great cinema, it baffles me that anybody, even implicitly, could argue that The Boondock Saints or The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is equal or superior to Crank, Crank 2: High Voltage, or Gamer.)
Duffy has less interest in, or maybe we should say less appreciation for, the nude female form than an actual gay or female filmmaker. I feel like it would be a low-blow to speculate about Duffy's sexual orientation, but this movie does not suggest the work of someone who is comfortable in his own skin. If Duffy's racism is responsible for the picture's failure on a conceptual level, his homophobia can be blamed for its failure on an aesthetic one. All genuine homophobia is also hedonophobia, or fear of pleasure. If your sense of eroticism is defined through homosexual interactions and you deny yourself any homosexual interactions, you have effectively lost your sense of eroticism. Moreover, once an action flick loses its erotic charge, it no longer has any utility for an audience. The film's defenders claim it was never intended to be great art. Fine. Could it at least attempt to rise to the level of great trash? If action movies are the junk food of the film world, then The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day has all the appeal of cold French fries.
I've decided that it's probably a little too broad of me to demand that every filmmaker get a hard-on in the editing suite, but it's perfectly reasonable to demand this of an action filmmaker. You have to love film itself. You have to get a tingle when you splice two images and they flow together. A movie like this needs momentum. It needs adrenaline. It needs passion. Duffy has closed himself off to all of these things. He's not a fag, because he doesn't want to be thought of as less of a man. And so, rather ironically, his film has been completely neutered as a result. Perhaps in some crude, proto-Nietzschean way, a free gay man is more of a man than a repressed one, as he has maintained his Eros.
Some reformed Boondocks cultists admit that at the time they saw the first one, they were too young and inexperienced to differentiate it from the films of Quentin Tarantino. Duffy's understanding of Tarantino seems limited to Reservoir Dogs and perhaps the "Gold Watch" segment of Pulp Fiction. He clearly has not seen, understood, and/or appreciated anything Tarantino has done since. In the creation of Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino says he was inspired by the criticism that he's too obsessed with minutiae to be effective with suspense. Well, Duffy is most certainly not obsessed with minutiae. There's none of the tinsel of something like Kill Bill, Vol. 1, for example. You would never encounter Red Apple cigarettes, Teriyaki Donuts, or a Jack Rabbit Slim's restaurant in the Boondock Saints universe. Duffy likes exposition, vulgarity, and ironic detachment. He finds no appeal in just sitting back and listening people talk, and, as I've established, he shares nothing akin to Tarantino's sexually submissive foot fetishism. Ultimately, Duffy would never make a film remotely like Jackie Brown or Death Proof.
Reservoir Dogs, on the other hand... Ever since I heard the story of how somebody offered to partially finance Reservoir Dogs so long as his girlfriend could play Mr. Blonde, I've occasionally entertained the notion of a full-on drag king version of the film, which is already a dress-up movie right there on the surface. It's about a cop working undercover as a professional thief. The thieves sound less like real thieves than like hipster video store clerks. They talk about "Get Christie Love!" and the deeper meaning of Madonna's "Like A Virgin." They subscribe to some kind of self-made code of conduct for "professional" thief behaviour that Tarantino seems to have a somewhat sardonic attitude towards. And, of course, Reservoir Dogs has more talk than action. These are men playing at being bigger men ("Are you going to bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?").
Tarantino has described the central relationship between Mr. White and Mr. Orange as paternal, but it strikes me, additionally, as co-dependently homoerotic (possibly sadomasochistic) in nature. You know, Orange is there bleeding (in her commentary for the 2002 Special Edition DVD, Amy Taubin says this signifies that he has been "feminized"), and White is tenderly combing his hair and asking him, "Who's a tough guy?" There's definitely an AIDS-era punch to this image of one man helping another man die peacefully, but it's coloured by the fact that White is twice the age of Orange and a veteran crook. He has spent much of the film showing Orange the ropes and training him to do this thing. Taking care of him as he is dying represents a natural progression of a relationship where White holds the power and needs somebody who needs him.
Because the gayness of this relationship is all under the surface, both partners are unlikely to confront or acknowledge it. Furthermore, the whole idea of a "gay relationship" is pretty new. There's no preset expectation of how to behave in one. The notion of gender roles has to be consciously constructed from scratch, since there aren't any strongly-defined models to mimic. Gays can't blindly subscribe to this ideal of a protective older man and a naïve younger woman that has existed for decades. If they do, they are perhaps more likely to acknowledge the exploitative dimension of it.
I bring this up to emphasize not only that Reservoir Dogs is a more interesting movie to write about than The Boondock Saints, but also that there is urgency to Tarantino's movie-bratism and the precocious macho posturing underlining the film. It's asking, on some level, what it means to be a man, and that's not an unessential or unimportant question. This sort of introspection is alien to Troy Duffy. When the Saints quote The Outsiders while joshing about their "faggy" blonde hair (which they're dying blonde in the first place because it worked in The Fugitive), or when they talk about how their plan to infiltrate a building was inspired by Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction, it doesn't represent them playing the role of movie characters. When Duffy calls attention to the "movieness" of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, in other words, it is to deify his central characters as post-modern übermenschen. They exist so far outside the events of the film that they can view them with a constant ironic detachment. They're cognizant of their omnipotence--of their status as superheroes inhabiting a superhero movie--and are smugly derisive towards anyone lacking their power or self-knowledge.
In Duffy's work, as opposed to Tarantino's, there's no tension between fantasy and reality. Duffy sees these characters as exactly who they claim to be. The homoerotic subtext in Reservoir Dogs provides the film's artifice with a human backbone, making it more than a mélange of references. (It's a mélange of references that means something). In The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, the homoerotic subtext turns the artifice into a means of repression. Duffy attempts to disguise his true feelings by joking that movies are stupid and only stupid people would take them seriously. Where Tarantino uses the movies as a means towards meaningful introspection, Duffy uses them as a defense against the same. When Duffy uses a "faggot" joke, he's saying two things: 1. I am at an elevated vantage point at which I can make jokes like these; and 2. You aren't ever going to get close enough to me to truly understand or analyze me. With that in mind, I suppose I understand how films like these are essentially critic-proof.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Sony presents The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day on Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p transfer that looks better than it has any right to. Pontypool cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak's fashionable orange-and-teal colour palette is dynamically rendered, while dissonant visual gags like a soiled hot pink Speedo come through with impressive subtlety. The film sounds appropriately aggressive in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with music and effects intelligently delegated to the discrete channels and dialogue mostly surviving the fray. Sort of surprisingly, and I mean this as the faintest praise possible, I found it preferable to watch The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day with the cast and crew commentary (featuring Duffy, Reedus, Flannery, and Connolly) activated. This is one of those "party commentaries" that's mainly interested in reuniting everybody to reminisce about those good times on set. There's predictably a great deal of circle-jerking and gay jokes, yet the natural warmth and camaraderie between the human beings involved in the making of this film makes for a more fulfilling experience than the film itself.
That said, I hated a moment near the end of the track where Duffy congratulates himself for a scene in which an Italian gangster cuts a cross into a tomato, rubs it in salt, and takes a bite out of it. The tomato represents passion, the salt represents money, and the cross represents, well, Christianity. So you see, there's a lot of "symbology" in this movie. Okay, but alongside this "symbology," the gangster is defiling Christianity with his decadence. The use of salt to represent wealth is intended to make him look like a Roman emperor. It's an embodiment of Duffy's racist juvenilia--the Italians are inherently disgusting and the Saints are purer and holier killing machines. Oh, and by the way, I'm a pretentious faggot for reading into the picture's "symbology," as are any Boondock Saints fans who do the same. As soon as he brings up the issue of symbolism, Duffy mocks himself for doing so in an exaggerated, effeminate lisp suggesting contempt for anybody taking the film this seriously.
Duffy flies solo on the second yakker for about fifty minutes. There's little here he doesn't say elsewhere, but again, speaking as somebody who despises this movie, I found that the time melted away fairly painlessly. Then, at around that fifty-minute mark, Willem Dafoe joins in and starts discussing, without irony, his "craft" with Duffy. I like Dafoe and was genuinely interested in hearing what he has to say. There's something else going on here: Duffy seems slightly intimidated by him. This is an actor who has been directed by Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and William Friedkin, to name a few. In the same year that The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day came out, he was in films by Lars Von Trier and Werner Herzog! Duffy knows he doesn't belong in that company. He may josh Dafoe about how he's a vegetarian and does yoga, but he understands that Dafoe has found an inner peace that eludes him.
There's a terrific exchange where Dafoe asks Duffy what he's working on next and Duffy says he's going to do a black comedy that's like the exploding-cat scene in The Boondock Saints except set in the 16th century. He asks Dafoe the same question and Dafoe refuses to answer, explaining that it would date the commentary track. In his gently polite way, Dafoe lets him know that they are not peers. It will be a miracle if Duffy ever works again, especially on something that isn't Boondock Saints-related. But it's inevitable that Dafoe will work on something new. So much so that it isn't even of interest to describe what he'll do next. As they say on the Internet: pure ownage.
Deleted scenes (2 mins. total and the only extras in standard definition) show Julie Benz's Eunice Bloom (who I guess I haven't had reason to mention thus far, but she's the replacement for Dafoe in The Boondock Saints II) crying over a body bag and Romeo sharing a moment with his uncle. I suppose Duffy was wise to cut these scenes, as they have a heartfelt humanity that is incongruent with the rest of the film. We see Duffy directing in "Unprecedented Access: Behind the Scenes" (25 mins.), and he does indeed have strong ideas of what he wants to do and exudes confident control over the set. We're reminded that it's the "fans" who are responsible for this movie's existence; ever the populist, Duffy puts out a casting call to invite them to volunteer as extras for the climactic gunfight. Once it comes time to shoot, he orders all the paid extras to get in back. In "Billy Connolly & Troy Duffy: Unedited" (9 mins.), Connolly and Duffy heap praise on each other. Connolly says that The Boondock Saints is "rock and roll," by which he means it is something the younger generation can embrace for themselves. For his part, Duffy says that Connolly looks like "God"--by which he seems to mean the God of the Sistine Chapel.
Exclusive to Blu-ray are the essentially superfluous "Inside the Vault: The Weapons" (8 mins.), in which head armourer Charles Taylor describes the various weapons used in the film and treats the project with a certain guarded ambivalence, and "The Cast Confesses: Secrets from the Set" (7 mins.), a boilerplate, completely forgettable promotional featurette. Much more substantive, if harder to watch, is "The Boondock Saints Hit Comic-Con" (57 mins.). I felt angry and frustrated to see convention-goers fawning over these people. The best defense--the only real defense of The Boondock Saints, I think--is that it's all a joke, and I hope I've explained why I can't admire it even on those terms. But these people who've come to see Duffy, Connolly, Murphy, and Reedus don't see it as a joke. They are genuinely star-struck. One young woman says that she wishes Duffy could read the college paper she wrote about his film. It's all very sad. The filmmakers indulge their fans with a Q&A filled with non-questions about how they can get autographs and whether or not the current political climate would inhibit the sequel's release as it did the first one. (That's not a question anybody really wants an answer to--it's a question you only ask to let everyone know how deep and thoughtful you are.) Hearing that they aren't going to be able to set up a signing that day, Duffy invites everybody to join him for a drink at a local bar.
Rounding out the disc are forced startup trailers for The Damned United, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Moon, and Zombieland and optional ones for Black Dynamite, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, (the Rob Zombie) Halloween II, "Breaking Bad" Season 2, Snatch, and The Da Vinci Code. Note that the ones for Black Dynamite, Halloween II, "Breaking Bad", Moon, and Zombieland are abridged spots that run less than a minute. BD Live is available for this title. Originally published: June 28, 2011.