Mark Ruffalo (Brian) and Ethan Hawke (Paulie) are childhood friends, growing up on the mean-streets of South Boston. Early on, they are overtaken by the path of least resistance toward easy money, through the negative environmental influences surrounding them. They eventually become runners, and, the heavy-hand, for organized crime boss Pat Kelly (Brian Goodman). Sadly, given their surroundings, it became their destiny---'the apple does not fall far from the tree.'
As the viewer you are able to observe these boys evolve from small time crime, to full-blown, risk-taking, men, with little remorse for social misconduct and an aversion toward authority figures. Interestingly, Antisocial Personality Disorders only need to have 3, or more, of 7 traits, and these characters portrayed them all---to perfection. You begin to see neither of them as having any socially redeeming value. Could redemption be possible with such a prognosis?
This film is brilliantly acted, and a textbook portrayal of budding sociopathy and the destruction it creates. If you have interest in dysfunctional personality dynamics, you will really enjoy it. However, some may not, because this is not a high-action film, or one of those bloody, chop-off-fingers types, with nausea inducing, gratuitous violence. Yes, there are some violent scenes, but this film is more of a character study of Brian and Paulie. One examining consequences of choices, and whether or not redemption can be found---if it's even sought, when there is a rusty moral compass.
Mark Ruffalo is outstanding in this role. The hospital scene, alone, when he is demanding more 'pain medication,' and his subsequent behaviors afterward are textbook, drug-seeking, antisocial. I can vouch for this, first hand, as I have been on the receiving end of such tirades, as a health care professional.
Although left with a message of hope for one of the primary characters, the problem I had with this film, was the inability to have much empathy for any of them. Even for Ruffalo's wife, who functioned as an enabler; a wounded personality, herself. But, I don't think we were meant to have empathy---perhaps just a better understanding of how some criminals and addicts amongst us are created, with a little window into their mind.
Brian and Paulie's story did touch a nerve for me, that we need more intervention, better schools and community outreach in neighborhoods such as these---that we as a society keep dropping the ball. When every child isn't given more opportunities to roll out from under that apple tree, we ALL suffer the negative consequences.