Monday, July 13, 2015

Untimely Revue: Boondock Saints

First off, I love this movie. It’s not high art. It’s not even all that great. But it’s a fun movie and I love it to pieces. That said, it has a lot of problems, and I’m going to be mostly focusing on the problems. Because I can. Because I’m a negative little man with anger issues. Anyway. Love this movie, but let’s rip it a new one!

Right off? No good Irish Catholic would interrupt Mass like the McManus brothers do. It’s incredibly disrespectful, even if it is just the homily they’re disrupting. For hardline Catholics, the Mass is something incredibly, incredibly sacred. It’s a cool scene, don’t get me wrong. Just unrealistic. But as a way to introduce the McManus brothers, it works wonderfully. They’re devout Catholics and staunch Irish descendants, attending Mass before work on St. Patrick’s Day. And their willingness to interrupt the homily foreshadows their willingness to break the Ten Commandments, especially the one about killing. For a character introduction, it works pretty well. We learn a lot about the Saints in that opening scene. Their clothes are working-class t-shirts and jeans and steel-toed boots, but their jackets are well-cut wool peacoats. They ritualize everything together—saying the Rosary at the same time, lips moving in sync. And they move with a sort of ominous good-humor that makes me wonder if they would have been the neighborhood bullies as kids, bullies who’d turn right around and grin good-naturedly at you and offer you some of their candy. 

From the very beginning there’s an annoying trend that persists through the movie—the camera has a slight waggle whenever it moves. Given that Boondock Saints was shot on a tight budget, I’d be willing to bet that they filmed without a steadycam, resulting in an up-and-down wobble whenever the camera moves in anything other than a zoom or sweep. I’ve never noticed it before this time, but now that I have, it’s annoying me like crazy. 

The opening credits feature some solid musical choices. It’s a kind of Generic Oirish, which…I’d prefer legitimate Irish songs, but given the budget the original Boondock Saints was filmed on, I doubt there was money to license the Clancy Brothers or Flogging Molly or the Pogues. Right after the credits we see the McManus duo heading into work. This is where a lot of their personality gets set up—they’re goofballs, hitting each other with raw meat, roughhousing around like morons. And then we have the ugly scene where an “angry butch dyke lesbian” stereotype goes off on them about “rule of thumb” like a caricature of a feminist. This really sets the tone for the movie’s treatment of minorities of any kind, and it’ll get worse. It’s pretty uncomfortable to watch, even by myself.

Okay, there’s got to be a better way to introduce characters besides that dumb cop-movie type-over junk. Seriously. It hasn’t been cool to do that in years... I’m not sure of what Smecker’s deal is. He’s definitely a self-loathing gay man—calling other gay men “fairies” and telling them to “stop that faggot shit” but at the same time… He plays with feather boas and he prances and he lets his hands linger on peoples’ shoulders a bit too long and he adopts this mincing accent and he crossdresses and… Yeah. It’s like they wanted their cake and to eat it too—he can’t be a “gay” gay man because no FBI agent would be that feminine (NOT MY OPINION), but at the same time he’s gay so he’s got to act gay. It’s pretty dumb, to put it lightly. Also, too, on the note of stereotypes? Don’t make your FBI guy a quirky genius. It makes me want to kick puppies. AND NOW THE BLOODY “GAY MAN” ACCENT. NO JUST STOP NO MY EARS ARE BLEEDING WHY.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA .50 caliber handgun? No sane mobster would carry a .50 caliber handgun. That’s like using a bazooka to hunt deer. …in context of how dumb these mobsters are, though, it kind of fits. No intelligent gunman would use one, that’s for sure. I do love the setup the movie uses, though. We see a killing, we KNOW it was the Saints, but how did they pull it off? It reminds me a bit of a Columbo episode. 

“Angels don’t kill.” Clearly you don’t know your Old Testament, fool. Know who killed all of Egypt’s firstborn? An angel. It’s a great line, though.

And then the McManus brothers walk up to the station as we hear murmuring voices from INSIDE A BRICK BUILDING at the same volume as we heard them when the camera was inside the station with the cops who are during the muttering. It’s a sloppy piece of work. You don’t need that bit of sound, you could easily cut it and use street noise as the McManusii approach, but instead you carry over your snip of sound. It’s just poor quality control. 

The veiled homophobia is really confusing given that we have all these semi-incestual shots of the McManus brothers shirtless in the same room. I mean, really. Shirtless men is one thing. Shirtless men who look like they took a dive in a vat of oil? Ya’ll need to come out of the closet.

And now a McManus—a DEVOUT Catholic—is making a “Body of Christ” joke while flicking coffee. Again, devout Catholic. No Catholic who is hardcore enough to wear a massive Rosary would blaspheme like that. Also, it would be “Blood of Christ.” Do some research for your blasphemy. I'll respect you more that way. 

Ah, Rocco, the Funnyman. The scene with his Don is just perfect. His desperation to be accepted, to advance in the Mafia, it’s just so pathetic and palpable. All he wants is for people to like him. I identify. 

Now the McManus brothers are practically drooling over a weapons stash. I love this scene. Their discussion of rope and knives is so self-aware of the tropes and yet they’re so childishly gleeful… You can see them already getting in over their heads. And then the chanting that begins as they start the hit. It’s not quite a Gregorian chant, but it’s close enough to count, and Gregorian chant always makes things sound spookier and more important. The fact that they’re operating on movie and TV logic is so charming. And it confuses Smecker so much. They’re like big dumb kids who just fell into this racket. Their banter, too. It’s a large part of why I love this movie. In a way it reminds me of Supernatural—the rapport between the brothers makes up for a lot of the flaws. Then that abrupt switch from comedy to a brutal massacre. The combination of religious ritual with coldblooded killing is a perfect match. The Saints are heavily influenced by the old Celtic ways, and it shows. Ritualized religious killings echo the Druids, their family prayer calls to mind the Crusaders and the religious warfare that's plagued Irish history… It meshes so well.  They’re dumb 20-somethings with an intense religious belief and a mandate from God to kill. 

I have to say, the cuts between cameras here are a bit…odd. I THINK they’re meant to depict the view from the mafia versus the view from each of the McManus brothers, but it gets really confusing. Which sort of fits for the whole bloody confusing massacre bit, but at the same time, there’s no reason a shootout can’t be somewhat coherent. And then the jumps between various camera sweeps as the brothers execute the head Russian—first the camera is swinging to the left, then to the right, then to the left some more. It doesn’t make any sense. A nice 240 degree sweep around them would have worked just as well. I’m guessing someone messed up a line of the prayer and they had to redo or something. 

Oh, man. Rocco’s snap. He’s been betrayed by people he thought were his friends. And he’s just lost it. That canted scene of him behind a gun, pointing down at the camera which lies on the floor next to a corpse, yelling “FUNNY! FUNNY!” Over and over and over. The Funnyman didn’t like the joke. Something about this scene…No lie, this scene is probably the most disturbing scene featuring a “humorous” character I’ve ever seen. Topping even Heather Ledger as the Joker. It’s just so…Unexpected. He’s so jovial, but…He is the first one to get angry in the bar scene with the Russian mobsters… 

Ah, and now the Mafiosos are running scared. They’re bringing out Il Duce. EHEHEHEHE. Oh, yes. The choir. Smecker, exulting, shouting, “THERE WAS A FIREFIGHT!” Blood and bullets. This scene is so over-the-top it’s amazing. Aaaaand then the rapturous, not-at-all-phallic discharge of a firearm. Oops. There’s some paperwork right there.

Ugh. The cauterizing scene. Right up there with the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs. It’s just…it’s not even horror-movie awful, it’s just awful. Like, flinching awful, not “haha that’s stupid” awful.

And the confessional scene. This one is actually pretty good. As far as Boondock Saints’ use of Catholic imagery goes, this is about the most accurate, honestly. And it also uses a pretty cool top-down camera that shows the separate “closets” of the confessional and how the various characters are interacting.

Some final wrap-up and then the closing scene. This whole thing, where they’re aided by cops? It rules. It’s horrible, but amazing. Vigilante justice at its badassest. But what sobers it all is the fact that some people would approve of it. Religious lunatics with guns taking justice into their own hands. If the Saints were Muslim they’d be terrorists, but since they’re Irish Catholics, it’s just good movie fun. (For the record, any religious fanatic—or fanatic in general—with a gun taking justice into his/her own hands is a terrorist in my book.) It’s a great fantasy, but so easily perverted. And I think that describes this movie as a whole pretty well. It’s deeply, deeply flawed, but I love it for some dumb reason. It’s great fun, but it’s fun with a dark side.