November 15, 2012

Queer Review: The Boondock Saints (1999)

The Boondock Saints
Director: Troy Duffy
Writer: Troy Duffy
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly, David Ferry, Brian Mahoney, Bob Marley, Richard Fitzpatrick

A bloody mess, but also a glorious one, The Boondock Saints manages to achieve something very few films do: entertain while providing a few kernels of philosophical thought regarding the nature of justice for the audience to chew on.

When the MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) are accidentally pulled into the activities of the Russian Mafia, they are forced to kill two mob hitman in self defense. This provides them with an idea (go after and start killing members of the Russian Mafia themselves) and the means to pull it off (money and guns they steal from the hitmen). With the help of Rocco (David Della Rocco) a friend of theirs who also happens to be a carrier for the Russian Mafia the two go on a vigilante killing spree with members of the Mafia as their target. Soon, FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is hot on their trail, although he quickly finds himself both admiring and sympathizing with the brothers cause.

The Queering
"What is justice?" is a question that has plagued mankind ever since Socrates interrogated Euthyphro on their way to a trail. The very trial that history tells us that ended with Socrates being sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of Athens. The first time I saw The Boondock Saint I dismissed as a rather shallow look at the true nature of justice. However, a second viewing made me realize that while The Boondock Saints does not really seek to answer the question, or even add anything particularly meaningful to the discussion, it does at least manage throw a few interesting twists out there.

The most interesting twist involves the sexual orientation of Dafoe's character, who appears to have been inspired somewhat by the historical view that J. Edgar Hoover himself was either gay or a crossdresser (never mind that the only hard evidence we have comes from a witness who had every reason to defame Hoover or that Hoover aggressively persecuted gay men during his tenure as director of the FBI). In any case, Agent Smecker is presented as a brilliant analysis, who investigates crime scenes while listening to classical music. He is also as being very uncomfortable with his identity. At one point, Smecker is shown in bed with a young hook up, who gets slapped away when he tries to cuddle with the FBI agent.

One of the reasons (it has been speculated) that Hoover never admitted to the existence of organized crime, was because the Mafia had damning evidence that Hoover was gay. Likewise, it is heavily suggested that Smecker's sexual orientation is preventing him from pursuing and prosecuting members of the Mafia. In a key scene, after exiting a gay bar, Smecker stumbles drunkenly into a Catholic Church and ends up in a confession box. Here, he engages in a philosophical conversation with the preacher about the nature of justice, where he laments about the restrictions that the law has placed upon him that hold him back from going after the Mafia full throttle. This conversation convinces him that what the MacManus brothers are doing is just.

The next time we see Agent Smecker, he is in full drag, apparently (and I am reading a bit into this scene I will admit) having decided to fully embrace his identity as a means of aiding the brothers in their quest for vigilante justice. Just as the brothers are breaking societal laws by executing members of the mafia, so too is Smecker violating social mores by engaging in his queer identity.

As far as the plot itself goes, The Boondock Saints has an interesting structure. Rather than simply presenting the MacManus brothers as they go about their business, each action set piece is presneted only after we've seen Smecker deconstruct the resulting crime scene. This essentially kills suspense, but keeps things more interesting than a more straightforward approach might have accomplished. There is still a lot of fun to be had in seeing how close Smecker ends up in his analysis. In one scene, as a means of showing Smecker's growing closeness with the MacManus brothers, Smecker is shown analyzing the crime scene, side by side while the brothers go about their business. It is in this scene, that Willem Dafoe comes this close to parodying one of his most famous moments from Platoon.

At the end of the day, The Boondock Saints is a bloody and violent film that contains enough interesting subtexts to save it from being just another film about vigilante justice.

While failing to achieve full Sainthood, these Irish boondocks deserve a look by anybody who won't mind the fairly graphic violence (and there is plenty of it) contained within.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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