Ten years ago a cult phenomena was borne from the fertile imagination of Troy Duffy. Essentially an ode to vigilante justice, a topic on which Duffy speaks quite passionately (as he does about filmmaking) harkening back to the Bible and certain circumstances which warrant “an eye for an eye”, the stories of Duffy and the Boondock Saints are themselves the things on which Hollywood legend is made.
A bartender/barback, the magical light of Harvey Weinstein shone down from above, blessing Duffy with cash and a too-good-to-be-true production deal for this longshot idea. Calling on rootings of Catholicism and the Irish-Catholic community of the Boston area, the Saints made a name for themselves not only with their myriad of killings (all warranted mind you and all inflicted upon the dregs of society whom we shall not miss) but the manner in which they killed. Brothers, Connor and Murphy MacManus (the Saints), believe in right and wrong, moral consequence, faith, loyalty, family and each other. Doing everything in tandem, complete with stylized killings and a calling card of prayers before pulling the trigger and pennies covering the eyes of the deceased, they became legends. Great basic story, right? Guns, action and good looking guys, great selling point, right? But, as we all know, if the deal seems to good to be true, it generally is, and by the time SAINTS was made, legal wranglings abounded and theatrical release was “limited” at best. Also adding to the 1999 problems was the Columbine incident which caused many to “blacklist” THE BOONDOCK SAINTS. But, according to Duffy, thanks to Blockbuster as, “they gave us a real big, uncommon release that put 60 to 120 copies per store in all their stores because they felt this was a much bigger movie”. As a result, the word got on these bad ass, kick ass, fine looking gentleman and the legend, and explosive groundswell cult following of THE BOONDOCK SAINTS began.
Fast forward 10 years. After 5+ years of litigation, a “documentary” on Duffy made by alleged friends (and I use the word “friends” loosely), and a belief not only in his characters and their story but the devotion of the fans, Duffy now brings us THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY. And let me tell you, this is one kick ass rockin’ movie that puts many of the “action adventure” films of more known filmmakers to shame.
As time has passed in life, so has it in the world of the Saints. Now in Ireland, Connor and Murphy are in hiding on a rural farm with their father where they find peace as sheep herders (aka “shepherds”). Content in their solitude, the Saints lead a quiet introspective life having put down their arms some years back. Unfortunately, that solitude is now disrupted when a priest is shot in Boston in the same manner and fashion as the boys’ earlier killings, thus making them the prime suspects. Riled not only by the heinous crime of murdering a priest in his parish, but the fact he was someone known to them, Connor and Murphy jump back into action, knowing this killing must be avenged.
Arriving in the States, the boys waste no time in pushing forward to exact their mission. Unbeknownst to them, however, they are legends and heroes to the common folk who are all more than willing to aid the Saints in seeking justice. Enlisting the help of an exuberant local Hispanic who is a Saints devotee and huge fan of their earlier handiwork, Romeo, who is extremely well connected and informed, becomes a “third Saint”. But the FBI are no slouches either as they call in their ace to head up the investigation into the priest’s killing – 6″ stiletto-wearing hot shot Special Agent Eunice Bloom. An amalgamation of Holly Hunter’s character of “Grace” from “Saving Grace” and a lot of Kyra Sedgwick’s “The Closer”, Special Agent Bloom, able to imagine any crime and recreate it in her mind, quickly determines the killing is that of a copycat. The Saints are innocent. However, mobsters and racketeers are turning up dead and it’s Bloom’s belief that those deaths are the handiwork of Connor and Murphy.
As the Saints and Bloom each move ever closer to their prime target, the priest’s killer, we are privy to vendettas new and old, all twisted together like a pretzel with overlapping commonalities and emotion. Is Concezio Yakavetta, son of the mob boss executed by the Saints in the first film at the heart of the murder? And what about Poppa MacManus? Where does he play into the plot? Not too many parents who would condone killings by their sons and sequester them in safety on the family homestead overseas. And who is The Roman? And what’s going on with everyone’s favorite Boston flatfoots, Detectives Greenly, Duffy and Dolly?
Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus return as Connor and Murphy MacManus. On screen and off, these two are brothers in every sense of the word. Heroic, funny and familial, they bring an ease and familiarity to their roles that is, quite frankly, comforting. With the action ratcheted up tenfold this go round, so were the physical demands on each, both of whom relished doing their own stunts. “We did a lot of our own. Not the super dangerous ones, because they wouldn’t let us do it. Not that we wouldn’t. It’s fun.” Maybe making it a bit easier for Flannery is his prime physical conditioning thanks to being a black belt. According to Reedus, to prepare for the physicality, they “did weight training.” He also faced dealing with a torn labrum which necessitated him to alter his moves by “swinging the gun into place”. Reedus describes reprising the role as feeling “over the moon. We waited a long time. I was happy to come back and do it. I could do 10 of these. You get the tattoos on you, the pea-coat. And then you start shooting people and speaking in an accent. It’s just like riding a bike. We just jumped right back in.”
A standout is Billy Connolly as Poppa MacManus aka Il Duce. Gentile, quiet and calming, he does a 360 performance that while mind blowing, will also have you in tears. Many forget that Connolly is a fine dramatic actor in addition to being a superb stand-up comic. As Poppa, he grabs your heart. For Reedus, “It’s great working with Billy. The way he comes into the second movie is such a hero moment.”
As Joe Pesci did with “Lethal Weapon 2″, here Clifton Collins, Jr.’s Romeo steals the Saints’ thunder in every shared scene. Collins is amazing. Coming into the project thanks to his deep friendship with Duffy, Collins’ exuberance and joy is uncontainable in his performance. Wild-eyed and chameleonic, he provides a great deal of the comic comradery beyond the sibling rivalry of the Connor and Murphy. With each scene, you anticipate his next even more. Same goes for Julie Benz who is delicious as Special Agent Eunice Bloom. Described by Reedus as “super sexy, super smart”, Benz, a self-proclaimed devotee of high heels, created a signature look for Bloom demanding that she wear stilettos. In fact, when we first meet Bloom, Benz is wearing her own shoes. With a sultry, smooth Southern drawl, Benz brings life to the party and a world imploding with death. No stranger to action adventure (just watch her as Sarah in 2008’s “Rambo”), Benz is completely at ease doing two fisted shoot outs, changing mags without missing a beat and twirling pistols as if on show as Annie Oakley – all on 6 inch heels. And her chemistry with all the boys is explosive, a fact Reedus celebrates. “She walked onto a very testosterone driven set. I think Julie has bigger balls than all of us. She went toe-to-toe with everybody.” And she’s funny.
Not to be missed is a wicked turn by Judd Nelson as Yakavetta as well as a slick appearance by Peter Fonda as The Roman.
Not one to rest on his laurels or stagnate, Duffy is fully cognizant of the Saints’ “over the moon” fan base and their dissection and knowledge of these characters. “For me, you can’t just rest on the laurels of the first movie and do some polished up version of Boondocks I. I wanted to give them a whole new story. There are a lot of curve balls and new aspects in there. The humor, we pushed that farther. Higher body count. More gun fights. We went into period piece flashback of 1950’s New York to explain Il Duce’s history. We got a Mexican. We got a female lead. That hit the fan base like cold water in the face when they heard about her. Now they can’t live without her after the pre-screenings that I’ve seen. This a way to give [the fans] everything they love about the first film but then throw a brand new plot and storyline at them that they never could have predicted. Show them a new thing we’re gonna make cool.”
Eradicating mobsters, exacting justice, guns, guns and more guns (which, according to Reedus are extremely heavy this go round – “Those guns weigh 45 lbs.”), religious prayers (written by Duffy based on a myriad of quotes from multiple religions) and choreographed gun fights shot in real time and slo-mo that will absolutely blow your mind, this IS signature Saints and signature Duffy. Calling on cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak, the look and feel is highly stylized with a subdued palette of denatured blues and greys, punctuated with life and color through the characters fo Bloom and Romeo.
Telling of Duffy as a writer and director is the fact that the original cast AND crew returned. And as he tells it, “they never left. These guys were calling me up every month or two. I was keeping them in the loop. As soon as it got out that we had a deal, crew members start hitting up my producers, ‘I want back in.’ One guy walked from a film he was doing. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty and those kinds of people and technicians who put their full effort into a film. Everybody just brought their “A” game. They realize this was a special one. That this was something they cared about. I believe that when you make a film you care about, you can see it somehow translates to the celluloid. That’s what we have on this project, all the way through filming, editing, post, everything. Everybody that touched BOONDOCK SAINTS II looked at it like a little piece of gold.” Part of that gold is thanks to editors Bill DeRonde and Paul Kumpata who walk their own fine line, dancing through scene after scene of the highly choreographed gun fights.
Duffy believes that key to the appeal of the Saints and a fan base that is “over the moon”, is that “we realize that Joe Average doesn’t really have much recourse when they are the victims of crime. I believe everybody has the same reaction. When you see something truly disgusting on the news, that instant reaction we all have is that ‘whoever did that should die.’ We may not all say that, probably 95% of us don’t, and we may not all support capital punishment and vigilantism, but we all have that thought. [BOONDOCK SAINTS II] is a way to play with that fantasy; give a little bit of escape.”
Once again, real life may be attaching itself to the Saints. Given the recent slaying of a priest in a New Jersey church, is Duffy concerned of yet another blacklisting? “I don’t concern myself with what real people do. This is a movie. With actors. Nobody actually died during the filming of this. It’s a piece of entertainment for people to ****ing enjoy. If they happen to ask themselves a few questions and ponder a couple of issues like vigilantism and capital punishment, great, but that wasn’t my intention.”
The Saints are marching again. Thank heaven (and Troy Duffy) for THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY.
Connor MacManus – Sean Partick Flannery
Murphy MacManus – Norman Reedus
Romeo – Clifton Collins, Jr.
Sp. Agent Bloom – Julie Benz
Poppa MacManus – Billy Connolly
Written and Directed by Troy Duffy.