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Friday November 22nd 2019

The Boondock Saints | 1999

The Boondock Saints filming location: McVeigh's Irish Pub, Church Street, Downtown Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: trouble at 'McGinty's bar': McVeigh's Irish Pub, Church Street, Downtown Toronto

First-time writer-director Troy Duffy’s crazily off-the-leash melodrama virtually disappeared on its initial release but has gone on to gather a huge following since the VHS/DVD releases.

Saints is often considered a quintessential Boston movie but, despite the setting, most of it was filmed around Toronto, Ontario.

That’s the real Boston, though, in the opening scene. Two deeply Catholic brothers, Connor and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) put on an ostentatious show of devotion in church as the priest rails against the passive indifference to evil.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Church of the Covennant, Berkeley Street, Boston
The Boondock Saints location: the MacMahon brothers attend church in Boston: Church of the Covenant, Berkeley Street, Boston | Photograph: Wikimedia / Daderot

Given the nature of the script, there were problems finding a church liberal enough to permit filming inside. The company finally got permission from the Church of the Covenant, 67 Newbury Street at Berkeley Street. This isn’t actually a Catholic church and that imposing crucifix was built just for the film.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Church of the Covennant, Berkeley Street, Boston
The Boondock Saints location: the MacMahon brothers light up: Church of the Covenant, Berkeley Street, Boston

It's the entrance on Berkeley Street as the lads step outside and light up, “I do believe the monsignor’s finally got the point”, setting up the theme of the film.

Behind the credits, views of Boston, particularly the Harbour District, establish to locale – but we’ve soon left not just Massachusetts but also the USA.

‘McGinty’s’ is the brothers’ local Irish bar which, the rather Tourettesy landlord (who seems to have been the inspiration for Father Ted’s cursing Father Jack) solemnly informs the drinkers, is being forced to close.

The Boondock Saints filming location: McVeigh's Irish Pub, Church Street, Downtown Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: trouble at 'McGinty's bar': McVeigh's Irish Pub, Church Street, Downtown Toronto

This is McVeigh’s Irish Pub, 124 Church Street, in the heart of Downtown Toronto. Although smarter than it appears on-screen, it’s changed little since 1999, and remains a good, old-school, friendly boozer.

In the film, it’s St Patrick’s Day, a bad time for the arrival of Russian mobsters behind the bar’s imminent demise. There’s a resounding victory for the Irish, with one of the Russians suffering the indignity of a flaming arse.

Messing with the Russian mafia turns out to have consequences, but when the goons turn up at the MacManus boys’ place to exact retribution, things don’t go according to plan.

Their bodies are discovered in bizarre circumstances, lying in the alleyway below the brothers’ apartment.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Ditly Lane, off Church Street, Downtown Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: Agent Smecker investigates the bodies in the alleyway: Ditly Lane, off Church Street, Downtown Toronto

Figuring out what the hell exactly happened is up to extravagantly theatrical FBI agent Smecker (Willem Dafoe) – who seems to be a close relative of wacko cop Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional, though he prefers Puccini to Beethoven.

This alleyway is Ditly Lane, running west from Church Street only a block north of McVeigh’s. That little side alley in which Smecker discovers a bullet embedded in the wall has since been built up.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Ditly Lane, off Church Street, Downtown Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: Agent Smecker investigates the bodies in the alleyway: Ditly Lane, off Church Street, Downtown Toronto

In true Tarantino style, we only discover in flashback how the MacMahons were able to see off the Russians so thoroughly, although they didn’t escape unscathed themselves.

Discharged from hospital and, feeling justified that they’d acted in self-defence, they hand themselves in to the law.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Lassonde Mining Building, King's College Road, Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: the brothers hand themselves in to the 'Boston Police Department': Lassonde Mining Building, King's College Road, Toronto

The entrance to ‘Boston Police Department – District 6’ station, where Smecker happens to be theorizing what transpired in the alley, is the entrance to the Lassonde Mining Building, 170 College Street, of the University of Toronto. It’s the side entrance just inside the campus gates on King’s College Road, by the way, not the near identical main entrance on College Street.

Released without charge, and immediately dubbed by the press “The Saints of South Boston”, the whole episode would be over but for…

The brothers learn from a message on the phone of one of the deceased gangsters that a notorious Mr Big from Sarajevo is about to arrive in Boston.

Determined not to show indifference and now fired up with righteous anger, the two decide to take the necessary action.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, Copley Square, Boston
The Boondock Saints location: the MacMahon brothers take out Mr Big and his gang: Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, Copley Square, Boston

We’re back to Boston for the luxury hotel where the gang boss is staying in the ‘Presidential Suite’.  It’s the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, 138 St James Avenue in Copley Square. It’s no stranger to the screen – you might have seen the hotel in Sydney Pollack’s 1993 adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm, with Tom Cruise.

It's still Boston as the brothers cross that old girder bridge to reach the hotel. You can no longer follow in their footsteps – the Old Northern Avenue Bridge across the northern end of Fort Point Channel has been closed to the public since 2014. Its future remains in doubt.

After wiping out no fewer than nine top Mafiosi while dangling from a rope, they’re unexpectedly confronted by Rocco (David Della Rocco), a drinking buddy and small-time crook who’d been instructed to take out the mob boss, after being told there’s only be two targets and not nine. It seems he’s been set up.

There’s a bit of a cheat when we see the TV news report of the killings from in front of the hotel. Although the full name of the hotel is not visible it seems to read ‘Place’ and not ‘Plaza’.

This shot was filmed later, when the production had relocated to Toronto and the news reporter’s head is carefully blocking out the full name of the, since closed, Sutton Place Hotel, which stood at 955 Bay Street, in front of which the scene was shot.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Fraser Avenue, Liberty Village, Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: the MacMahon brothers lie low at Rocco's place: Fraser Avenue, Liberty Village, Toronto

The brothers are now lying low at Rocco’s place. His apartment, where the cat suffers an unfortunate accident, is 47 Fraser Avenue at Liberty Street in Liberty Village, Toronto.

Liberty Village was an industrial area which, like many such inner city neighbourhoods, has been gentrified to become loft apartments and creative businesses.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Fraser Avenue, Liberty Village, Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: the MacMahon brothers lie low at Rocco's place: Fraser Avenue, Liberty Village, Toronto

Back in the 1980s, before redevelopment, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) had his laboratory in the warehouse behind this apartment in David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Enthused by the whole ‘retribution’ ethos, Rocco now sets out to confront the colleagues who had set him up at the Copley Plaza.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Dundas Street West, Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: Rocco heads to the diner to exact revenge: Dundas Street West, Toronto

He finds them at the Lakeview Restaurant, 1132 Dundas Street West, where he quickly disposes of the pair along with the bartender.

There’s no attempt to disguise the Lakeview, despite it being a Toronto landmark (this time the TV news broadcast clearly advertises its name).

The Boondock Saints filming location: Lakeview Restaurant, Dundas Street West, Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: Rocco kills the the guys who set him up – and the bartender: Lakeview Restaurant, Dundas Street West, Toronto

This 24-hour eaterie dates back to 1932 and its period interior has been seen in several productions including 1988’s Cocktail, with Tom Cruise, David Cronenberg’s 2012 Cosmopolis, the 2007 musical Hairspray and, more recently, became the diner in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.

The mob’s local boss Yakavetta (Carlo Rota) realizes the outfit is being targeted and, as a last resort, calls on the services of a notorious hired gun known only as Il Duce.

The fact that Duce is confined to a high-security facility presents no problem to the mob. The fearsome beast, despite being chained and caged, is suddenly and mysteriously paroled.

‘Hoag Maximum Security Prison’, where he’s confined, is back in Boston. It was the 19th century Charles Street Jail, which has since been glammed-up to become the Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street, though preserving many architectural features including the Rotunda.

A massive shoot-out between Duce (Billy Connolly) and the boys, amazingly, leaves all parties alive, if not entirely whole – Rocco unfortunately leaves behind a severed finger.

The crazy confusion of clues sees Smecker flipping out (There was a FIIIIREFIIIIGHT!” – Mr Duffy doesn’t seem to feel the need to restrain his actors) and getting steaming drunk in his local gay bar.

The Boondock Saints filming location: Terroni Restaurant, Adelaide Street East, Toronto
The Boondock Saints location: Smecker gets totally wasted at the 'Boston gay bar': Terroni Restaurant, Adelaide Street East, Toronto

This was then the Courthouse Lounge, a real gay bar in Downtown Toronto. It’s now Terroni Restaurant, 57 Adelaide Street East, and that galleried bar is now the restaurant’s Sala da Pranzo, which you can now hire for private events.

The totally wasted Smecker stumbles into the confessional box of a nearby church and reveals his sympathy towards the vigilantes – who are happily on hand to hear this.

An attempt to take out Yakavetta once and for all brings everybody (no spoilers) on board. The boss does find himself under arrest though he’s cocky enough to believe that, as ever, he’ll get off scot free. People have other ideas.

Yakavetta’s trial is held in the Old Council Chamber of Toronto’s Old City Hall, 60 Queen Street West.

When City hall proved too small for the growing city, a new City Hall was planned. In the 1960s, this old council chamber really did become a courthouse. If you want to see the interior of the new City Hall, you can see it in Bryan Singer’s original X-Men.