What the hell were we thinking?
Um, Spoilers ahead.
Saints has not aged well. It's locked into an almost mid-90's black-trenchcoat-over-black-shirt-and-blue-jeans sensibility. This is forgivable in and of itself, but I can't help thinking that the movie made a whole more sense in the wake of Terminator 2 than it does today--now that Guy Ritchie has redefined and subsequently castrated the organized-crime-drama, making it more trendy than timeless.
That said, there were certain compelling elements to Saints. It offered a unique story structure in which violent showdowns were depicted in flashback. It was pretty mercilessly violent, and it did try to raise some questions about the nature of vigilantism--although it could have started that discussion before the closing credits, if you want my opinion, and it's a topic that has been covered much better by recent films like The Dark Knight.
But to really look at where this film goes awry, let's look at what it got wrong to begin with--a list that starts and ends with Willem Dafoe.
Dafoe's character, a charming and flamboyant FBI officer, shows up and destroys the Boston PD with his crime-scene analysis tactics. He dances through an alley finding bullet holes and doing chemical tests while listening to opera on his portable CD player. Yeah, wish I were making any of that up. His ability to outsmart the cops is governed by the fact that Boston's police force is depicted as being breathtakingly stupid. As Dafoe's psyche cracks--for no discernible reason--he grows ever more disheveled and mindless. He starts stealing evidence, evidence like a dismembered finger. As he figures out who these "Saints" are, he seems ever more distraught over the idea of things like due process, but in spite of that he's not cynical, he's an idealist.
In fact, he's such an idealist that he dresses up as a woman (the ugliest woman I've seen on film, perhaps) and proceeds to seduce mobsters in an attempt to free the Saints, which turns out to be meaningless because the Saints are set free by Billy Connolly, in what has got to be the most egregious deus-ex-machina ending ever, ever. The Saints get away because the man hired to kill them turns out to be their long lost father. Cue the organ music, we're making a soap! For the finale, we get a very public murder, followed by three minutes of spinny-camera, self-important prosthelytizing.
Okay, there were other problems too. Ron Jeremy shows up so one of the heroes can tell a horribly offensive joke, but it's okay because the bad guys made him do it. And maybe I'm just old and cynical, but I'm at a point where badassery cannot automatically make up for shoddy storytelling and weak characterization.
And don't even get me started on Donnie Darko!