39 Things We Learned From ‘The Boondock Saints’ Commentary

Commentary Commentary: The Boondock Saints

We all love The Boondock Saints? Right? Right? Guys? Where you going? Look, I’m fully aware of the animosity for this film, especially its writer/director, Troy Duffy. Hell, even the DVD is annoying me right this second with this “You wouldn’t steal a car, so why steal movies” PSA. But there’s a point in everyone’s life where you have to realize bad filmmakers like talking about their film just as much as the geniuses. So we’re gonna let Mr. Duffy speak, and we’re gonna be taking detailed notes as to what he has to say.

Yes, this one comes with the decade long-backlash. And I’m sure Troy Duffy’s commentary here is going to be filled with all kinds of insightful anecdotes about crafting the film, honing the story so its concise yet layered. I’m sure there isn’t going to be anything on this commentary track that puts Troy Duffy in an angelic light. And, in case you didn’t catch it, I put the sarcastic tone on the word “angelic.” So here is everything we learned from Mr. Troy “Overnight” Duffy’s commentary track for The Boondock Saints.

That damn PSA is still going by the way. Don’t steal, folks.

The Boondock Saints (1999)

Commentators: Troy Duffy (writer, director, headliner of The Boondock Saints formerly known as The Brood)

  • The commentary starts “My name is Troy Duffy. I wrote and directed The Boondock Saints.” God, what an egotist. He just can’t stop talking about himself. Okay, all kidding aside, I’m not even going to count this as an item, and I won’t be asserting Duffy’s egotism unless otherwise provoked. I think the man’s attitude has already been well documented.
  • Because of the violence in the film, Duffy had a hard time finding a church that would actually let him shoot within. The church in the opening scene is the Union Methodist Church in Boston. Those Methodists. They’re so laid back.
  • Duffy comments he received a 2-page letter from the Archdiocese of Toronto calling him the “spawn of Satan” and that the script for this film was an “instrument of his destruction.” Archdiocese generally make the best critics.
  • It was important to have the brother dynamic strong between Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery. He wanted to hire two actors who looked like they could be brothers, and the opening scene in the church is designed to make it obvious these two are brothers before they even utter a word of dialogue.
  • “Money is always a huge concern in independent filmmaking,” says Duffy before stating they had around $5-6 million for the film. Duffy also says this amount of money, when it comes to making a film, is basically “You’re on your own money.”
  • “There I am,” says Duffy when the A Troy Duffy Film card comes up. I’m not commenting.
  • David Della Rocco, who plays Rocco, was a friend of Duffy’s from the director’s days of owning a bar in Boston. Duffy liked his personality so much that he wrote him into the screenplay as a character. Rocco had tried making it in Hollywood but was unsuccessful. “I convinced him to come back,” says Duffy. Yes, the four credits he has on IMDB, The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day being one of them, proves that.
  • Duffy points himself in the film out twice in a matter of 20 seconds. “Quite fetching,” he says about himself. I’m really not trying to make the claim that this man is egotistical. The way he speaks is doing the job just fine for me. Another mention, “And there is a shameless plug for me,” comes up when the “Written and Directed by Troy Duffy” credits comes up. That should be about it. We’ll see.
  • It was Duffy’s original intention to have Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” playing when Willem Dafoe‘s character, Paul Smecker, arrives in an early scene. According to Duffy they wanted roughly $17 million for the rights to 30 seconds. There’s that “You’re on your own money” working its magic again. Duffy also mentions he wanted The Beatles playing in the scene where the brothers are buying heavy weaponry. They, too, wanted $17 million. It’s a common asking price.
  • Dafoe told Duffy that he was the first first-time director he’d ever worked with. The director refers to their first meeting as “two kids in a sandbox” in terms of coming up with ideas for the character. A quick glance at IMDB shows that what Dafoe told him is absolutely true if you don’t count short films. It’s probably not important enough to put in the time and effort of fully proving/disproving that.
  • Duffy wanted Reedus and Flanery to come up with a “kill switch,” the moment their character decides they’re going to get out of a situation no matter what they had to do. It’s indicated by a slow motion shot of Reedus looking aggravated.
  • Duffy notes showing the company, I’m assuming Franchise Pictures at this point, dailies of Flanery’s character, Connor, throwing the toilet off the side of the building. The company was upset that the whole thing was in slow motion, and Duffy says he almost got fired because of it. He mentions he and editor Bill DeRonde did a quick edit job on the scene and included the techno music that’s in the film now, and everything worked out. Duffy is completely right in that regard. Techno makes pretty much everything better.
  • To make it look legit that Reedus’ character, Murphy, was picking up and carrying Connor, the director told Flanery not to help Reedus in any way. Reedus had to jog out of the alley with dead weight of about 180 pounds on his shoulder.
  • Billy Connolly’s voice-over work for the scene with Connor and Murphy’s dream sequence in jail was recorded while the comic was on the road in Australia. Duffy sent him the lines and recorded them over the phone.
  • Duffy brings up his reasoning behind casting Ron Jeremy. “Chances are you both know who he is,” Duffy says envisioning a couple watching The Boondock Saints together, “but are you gonna talk about it afterwards?” So that was his reason for casting Ron Jeremy. I guess that makes sense?
  • The idea of racial humor comes up in the scene where Rocco tells a particularly racist joke. “I figure if it’s funny, screw you,” retorts Duffy. Okay, so stop me if you’ve heard the one about the bartender who screwed up his million dollar picture deal with Miramax.
  • Duffy wanted to make the Paul Smecker character gay to put even more of an emphasis with how at odds he was with the rest of the cops in the film. It also serves to make an even stronger point later on in the film when Smecker is seen as a genius investigator in the other cop’s eyes. The Boston cops he is working with know he’s gay, but it’s become a non-issue. Duffy also anecdotes about a friend of his who was a closeted homosexual and who came out of the closet after watching The Boondock Saints. The Boondock Saints: Bridging gaps since 1999, mostly 2000.
  • The scene in the penthouse shoot-out took up a nice sized bulk of the film’s money. However, when Dafoe came to set, he mentioned to Duffy that the “spacing” of the set was an issue. The actor wasn’t sure where he should be walking. Duffy came up with the idea of Dafoe walking on the back of the couch, as well as performing the Riverdance, on the fly.
  • The prayer the brothers say before killing their victims is not in the Bible. It’s something Duffy wrote for the film. His dad helped.
  • Duffy goes into what it’s like to be a first-time film maker. He mentions how, when you’re on a set as director for the first time, every member of the cast and crew is looking at you to prove yourself. Duffy mentions how much fun working on The Boondock Saints was, but he also mentions the sense of guidance or worth is always in question on a first-timer until the times comes that he says, “Action.” “Somehow in the difficulty of it lies the magic of it,” he says.
  • The director brings up an anecdote from after the film was completed and released. He was on his balcony smoking when a little black girl walked by, saw the poster for The Boondock Saints on Duffy’s wall, and asked if he had anything to do with it. The director was stunned, since the girl was completely out of the film’s intended demographic. So let that be a lesson to all you parents out there. Don’t let your kids ask strange men about posters on their walls. Also this story is extremely suspect. I’m trying to give Duffy the benefit of the doubt here, but I don’t even believe he smokes at this point.
  • The story of the little girl segues into what happened with the film’s distribution. Here we go. Duffy notes the industry screening for the film happened a few weeks after the shootings at Columbine. Movies like The Basketball Diaries and The Matrix were being shown on the news every day as examples of violence in film. “Boondock didn’t have a chance,” says Duffy. He says the film was essentially blacklisted from American theaters. I would just like to mention another film that came out a week after The Boondock Saints. Scream 3. I think that film makes my argument for me. Also The Matrix made $171 million domestic. So, if you want to believe Columbine ruined The Boondock Saints‘ chances for box office success, by all means. Go ahead.

  • On the upside of things, it’s not all Duffy complaining about how poorly the film did in theaters. He mentions how ecstatic he was when The Boondock Saints became a cult hit, the idea of fans of the movie importing it from other countries just for the chance of watching it. It’s here where Duffy thanks all of the fans of the film. I borrowed my DVD from my girlfriend, Mr. Duffy, but you’re welcome.
  • Duffy apologizes to the cat that gets shot in the film. I’m assuming that was all special effects, but the apology makes it questionable. About the scene, though, it was thrown in because of a relationship he had with a woman who had four cats. “This is the only scene in here that’s very self indulgent on my part.” No comment.
  • Duffy recollects going to a bar with Rocco during production. There was a girl working there who Rocco really liked. As chance would have it, this girl was a huge Willem Dafoe fan, and Rocco ended up getting Dafoe into the bar. When she saw him, the girl was very excited and began asking him for an autograph. Dafoe, always the smoothie, told the girl he’d give her an autograph if it was okay with Rocco. I like this story, because I like Rocco. There’s also a story about a bunch of people from the film going paintballing.
  • Duffy goes into how the script went from sitting on his computer to getting him meetings with big studios to produce it. He ran into a friend of his who was in the business who decided to take the script back with him after he had read it. According to Duffy, The Boondock Saints stood out from the hundreds of screenplays that get read every day. It really was an overnight situation. Hence the name of the documentary. “Rather than knowing some studio exec, it’s best to just trust somebody who’s smart and has your best interests at heart.”
  • There was evidently a lot of ad-libbing going on during filming. “A director can have all the vision in the world, but it’s the actors that are gonna pull it off for you,” says Duffy. He realized during filming that no matter what kind of vision he had for each, particular character, it was the actors who took charge, who were so close to the character, that they molded them for themselves. Strangely enough, every character Ron Jeremy plays is a porn star. You ever notice that?
  • The concept of independent filmmaking comes up again and how most of the filmmakers working today – today being the early 2000s when this commentary track was recorded – are doing it like Duffy did it on The Boondock Saints, little budget, no time, and you have to be working to get the shot at all times. Duffy notes one day where they had to get 35 setups in one day of filming, a ridiculously high number on a bigger budgeted film. He also notes the camaraderie on set and the system they had to instill that ultimately ensured completion of the film was even possible.
  • The scene between Dafoe and the three cops – who Duffy refers to as The Three Stooges – assisting him in the diner was the first day of filming for Dafoe. It’s worth mentioning, because of the dynamic of the group of those four men and how it changes from their earlier scenes. They’re more disheveled and worn out from the investigation, but there’s a comfort between the three cops and Dafoe’s character.
  • Il Duce’s prison number, 6570534, was Duffy’s phone number at the time. The number is not in service now.
  • Duffy recalls meeting Billy Connolly for the role of Il Duce. Connolly, always the more jovial of characters, wanted to play the “baddie.” Duffy also recollects days shooting on the street where Connolly would entertain the cast, crew, and spectators with comedy bits. On more than one occasion, Duffy had to pull the comedian away from performing so he could do his scene.
  • When the Saints bust into the mobster’s house, Duffy intended to have “5 to 1” by The Doors playing. Again, $17 million. According to Duffy, “5 to 1” fit perfectly into this scene. The length of the song ran exactly the length of the scene they had cut. Sadly, no one had $17 million laying around.
  • Duffy mentions he did a “John Woo rip-off” for the shootout between the brothers and Il Duce. He liked the idea of dropping out all the sound and only having music play while so much violence and action was going on visually. He then specifies Face/Off and the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” shootout. I don’t consider myself an expert, but John Woo had much better movies to rip off than Face/Off. Seriously, man. Throw some doves in next time.
  • Duffy notes how politics didn’t keep the film out of theaters in Asia, but he more pointedly mentions the shot of Rocco’s cut off finger laying on the ground brought up a much different reaction over there. In Japan audiences laughed at the finger. In America they cringed. I’d say it has something to do with the Yakuza, but I don’t know enough about it to comment. I mean, I’m not laughing at the Yakuza. I just…best just to move on.
  • The initial premise for The Boondock Saints came when Duffy and his brother, Taylor, were living in a run-down apartment complex. Duffy notes the drugs and guns that constantly came through the building and how he and his brother always fantasized about doing something about it. “Not that we’ve ever killed anybody, because we certainly have not…to the best of your knowledge.” Oh, that Troy Duffy cracks me up with his crazy antics about back in the day when he was a vigilante.
  • 1:23:40 – Duffy gets angry. The comparisons made by critics and other commentators of Duffy and other directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie comes up. Duffy notes that The Boondock Saints was finished before Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels hit theaters. “Tarantino’s another story,” Duffy says. He feels Tarantino “reinvented cool,” but also mentions certain elements of Pulp Fiction may have subconsciously influenced The Boondock Saints. He also notes the films Tarantino had been influenced by for his films. “So what? We’re creators. We go and do these things to the best of our ability. There are similarities, and there are differences. Everybody’s going to have their own opinion about it, but I guess it could be worse, you know?”
  • The man playing the priest was an actor named Jimmy Tingle. Later in the scene where Willem Dafoe dresses as a woman, Duffy mentions the time he first showed the scene to Tingle, who said, “Oh, I know that girl. She’s from Boston.”
  • The director would periodically trick his actors into getting angry for a scene. He would call them names before shooting to attain the level of anger he needed in them for the scene. So, now he’s ripping off Friedkin. Nice.
  • The end credits, which lay over a series of news clips asking people about the Boondock Saints, mostly consists of Duffy just naming names. These are people you’ll never meet. These are people you’ll never think about again after watching this. I understand the director’s desire to give them all credit, but do we really want to sit through it? It’s like an acceptance speech, and not a good one. He does end up thanking the fans of the film for all their support, so you can’t say he doesn’t end on a humble note.

Best in Commentary

“When you’re doing an independent film it’s like you gotta get it. You’ve got no time. You’ve got no money. You just gotta move, move, move, move, move.”

“I’m sick of not getting my $8 worth when I go and see a flick.”

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of up and down in the Troy Duffy commentary for The Boondock Saints. As you can see, there were 39 items to be noted. There was also a lot of name dropping – not the celebrity kind, the “Oh, there’s my best friend, Tommy” kind. That’s nothing, though, compared to the amount of time he spends simply pointing out what is going on in the film. We’re watching the film, Troy. We know what we’re seeing. He will occasionally go into some of the subtext he intends or the random story of the day they did that shot. Most of it, however, is  play-by-play.

All in all, not a bad commentary. Yes, he does dip into egotism here and there. “This is working for me” during one particular shot he liked made me flinch. But, for the most part, it could be a whole lot worse. After hearing the man speak for two hours, I understand why Miramax dropped him so hard, but I also get the idea he has the potential to grow as a filmmaker. Of course, that potential brought us Boondock Saints II, but we’ll disregard that for now.

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Jeremy's been writing about movies for a good, 15 years, starting with the film review column of his high school newspaper. He stands proud as the first person in his high school to have seen (and recommend) Pulp Fiction. Jeremy went on to get a B.A. in Cinema and Photography with a minor in journalism. His experience and knowledge of film is aided by the list of 6600 films he has seen in his life (so far). Jeremy's belief is that there are no bad films, just unrealized possibilities. Except Batman and Robin. That shit was awful.

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