The Guard

24 Aug

Title: The Guard
Year: 
2011
Director: 
John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: 
Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Mark Strong
MPAA Rating: 
R, pervasive language, some violence, drug material and sexual content
Runtime: 
96 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
95%

 

In Bruges was my fourth favorite film of all 2008 (behind only, in order, The Wrestler, Synechdoche, New York and The Dark Knight), it was a truly masterful film, written and directed by the insanely genius playwright Martin McDonagh, it boasted probably one of the best screenplays of the past decade, full of sensational one-liners and situations and a love for perfectly used curse words, and a couple of superb performances by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. I have recommended that film to pretty much everyone I’ve had the chance to, and more often the not they thank me like crazy for it. Now, that undying love I have towards In Bruges is what embedded in me some pretty high expectations for The Guard, a film produced by Mr. McDonagh and written and directed by his brother John Michael McDonagh, and that also had Mr. Gleeson in a starring role and that looked to be a cousin to In Bruges insofar as it seemed to be another masterful black comedy with all kinds of perfect uses of the word “fuck” in great Irish accents.

Now, The Guard ultimately really wasn’t as amazing as In Bruges was over three years ago, but it’s still just so tremendously dark and witty, with all of these terrific crime sequences punctuated by a razor sharp comedy that make you quickly realize this has the McDonagh gene pool all over it, and that’s something I really can’t get enough of. And, really, Mr. Gleeson is a damn fine actor, and he’s becoming a McDonagh staple now it seems after starring in In Bruges and his turn in Six Shooter, Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-winning short film from 2004, but yeah, this guy is just a fantastic actor who just knows how to own a role, his body becomes as much part of a character as the lines and circumstances, he really gets in it, and sells the role to you. And in here he stars as Sergeant Gerry Boyle a garda who’s in charge of patrolling Connemara, a district of the west coast of Ireland.

Boyle is this policeman who we learn all we need to know about in the opening scene, as he witnesses a high-speed crash on a coastal road and then rapidly proceeds to check the victim’s clothes for drugs he can then transfer to his own pockets. This is the sort of law enforcer Boyle is, he gets high on stashes of criminals, he orders up prostitutes in his day off, not because he’s a bad guy, but because in such a quiet town there’s really not a lot of crime to go around, and he needs something to cut the monotony of his life with. And that whole boredom makes the events of the next day pop out even more, as Boyle and another young police officer find a the body of a young man with a bullet in his head and the number “5 1/2” smeared in his blood on the adjoining wall. The young officer says it’s probably a serial killer who only half-killed one of his victims (showing that in Connemara police officers probably learn most of their craft from films) but in fact it’s something bigger, a crime wave tied to a drug ring operation through the area that the FBI is actually investigating. And to coordinate the investigation with the local authorities the FBI sends over Agent Wendell Everett, played by Don Cheadle.

Mr. Cheadle by the way is another seriously dependable actor who has also been quite terrific in past roles, and his casting in this film is as much a stroke of genius as Mr. Gleeson’s, because those two really couldn’t be more different from each other, and that’s the whole point of this film. You see, for one, Boyle doesn’t want someone partnering with him, he drinks on the job and he fears that will keep him from that, not to mention that the guy, if not a racist, is certainly incredibly naïve about black people, and has no sensible tact when approaching Everett whatsoever, his opinion of him being based apparently on whatever he has heard about black people on stereotypical TV shows.

And it’s really great what Mr. McDonagh does with the whole culture clash, he makes fun of the local people, for sure, makes them seem ignorant, but also uses them to make fun of Mr. Cheadle’s character, who can’t really move forward with the investigation of his own because the locals don’t want to speak English to him and instead reply in Gaelic. That’s what pushes him to team up with Boyle, a man who says racism is part of his culture, and that’s really when The Guard, as good as Mr. Cheadle is, really becomes a Brendan Gleeson show. The way Mr. Gleeson plays Boyle is just sheer perfection, his comments, coming from a splendid script, are delivered by him in a way that have you doubting if Boyle is just this really dumb and ignorant guy, as they come with enough hints of wit that you have to think that maybe he’s the most intelligent guy in the room and the only one who really knows what the hell he’s doing.

The film has a lot of formulaic elements, that’s for sure, good cop/bad cop, a guy who’s out of his element, a relationship that didn’t want to happen in the first place, those are all familiar themes in these kind of movies, but the script makes all the familiar things seem fresh. Seriously, this is just really awesome writing which often has characters engaging in a conversation that’s just so wonderfully done and full of black humor delivered by some of the very best that’s impossible to look away. Again, this really isn’t as great as In Bruges, but it’s still a remarkably good film, you just have to sit back enjoy and prepare yourself to laugh out loud many times as Brendan Gleeson shows you how it’s done.

Grade: A-

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