Tuesday 13 September 2011

Review: The Guard

Year: 2011
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Screenplay: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong

Synopsis is here

As The Guard is an Irish film, it's no surprise to me that I have to scraper to an art house cinema chain in a small town in order to catch a screening. I didn't do too much reading into it due to a mixture of time and a general not-particularly-botheredness about it. However due to a Q & A screening for Red State being pulled and me managing to watch the film elsewhere, I took a plunge on the film as I had nothing else to do with my time. A couple of hours later and I come out of one of my favourite films of the year. A deceptively touching story, a character actor knocking his lead performance out of the park and a screenplay with dialogue as charming and witty as it is un P.C.

It's no surprise that the director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of In Burges director Martin McDonagh as The Guard features the same knockabout humour which made the 2008 hitman comedy a popular cult favourite. The buddy comedy aspect is also with both films however this film is much more interested in playing around with the particular sub-genre, turning aspects on it's head and casting a wry eye over the usual genre elements. Consider Gleeson here as an Irish Eddie Murphy to Don Cheadle's more straight edged Judge Reynold. The film merrily toys with the idea of a black Yale educated FBI agent full out of his element in gaelic, small town Ireland. It's important to see this compared to the Rush Hours, Cop Outs, 48 Hours or Last Boy Scouts within the genre. We see the "streetwise black guy" so often it's almost second nature. The simple act of turning this aspect on it's head makes way for some good humour (seriously worth watching for Don Cheadle's reactions alone).

We get racial jibes about swimming and growing up in the projects by Gleeson's character, but it's not at Cheadle's (or the audience's) expense in any shape or form as McDonagh has created a character who deftly balances the suggestion that his ignorance may all be a massive joke which helps him be a better officer...or not. Is he playing dumb as he knows more about the case than you think and all this FBI nonsense is getting in the way or is he just a naive, tackless old bugger who just not used to the situation he's thrown into?

Gleeson's Gerry Boyle is a wonderfully full-bodied character (gleefully embraced by Gleeson) who has relationships which germinate around him as the film goes on. Once again I like it when this happens and the film doesn't feel like a robotic reading of a script. The relationship between his dying mother (a wonderful Fionnula Flanagan) is gently humorous as well as heart-rendering, while the partnership with Cheadle's Wendell Everett knocks banter, misunderstandings and finally friendship like no bodies business.

The whole film is like this however; chocked full of silly character moments from a strong cast (short and sweet turn from Mark Strong) and a script which constantly plays with the idea of the buddy cop movie. We get lowest of the low criminals with extraordinary high taste in culture and philosophy, a kid so hooked on genre T.V he plays a conversation with Boyle as if he's that first edgy witness (you know the one that's ALWAYS in these things), while a characters first day on the job is the worst day of his life (consider those cops who don't to that last day of retirement due to a bullet related illness).

Ireland is gorgeously captured through the lens and the films gentle meandering pace and manner is held together with laugh out loud one liners and sharp asides. The film is also happy to shift tones in it's more quieter character moments giving the same emotional tap that In Burges was happy to provide.

Interestingly while In Burges comments on religion, guilt and sin, The Guard appears more focused on existentialism. It's low life constantly questions not the pointlessness of their job, but life itself while the films ambiguous climax could be lost on a first viewing, becoming clearer on a second glance. The clues lie within the relationships that Gerry Boyle has and loses. Boyle is asked if he's real fucking dumb or real fucking smart. We've seen the answer in his eyes throughout the movie and it's more than you think.