The Guard, 2011.
Directed by John Michael McDonagh.
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan and Mark Strong.
A small town Irish cop with a confrontational personality teams up with an FBI agent to investigate an international cocaine-smuggling ring.
The Guard is an small, off-beat film that works well as a comedy, but not so well in other departments. It plays like a cross between Bad Lieutenant and In Bruges, but set in small town Ireland, which gives the film its charm and originality, but it feels like one joke stretched over 90 minutes, and this is its downfall.
First and foremost, however, it is a comedy and because of this the film is largely a success. As the title character, Brendan Gleeson is superb in a role which was clearly written with him in mind; the character is vulgar, racist, drinks on the job, solicits with hookers, and generally doesn’t give a damn about this responsibilities as a policeman, yet Gleeson’s ability to make us actually like him is a testament to his talent as a actor. We can never be sure if he means the outrageous things he says, or if he is actually rather clever at working out a character through their responses. I think it is the latter because the script has a gloss of knowingness and awareness about it, which is also its undoing and something I shall comment on later.
If Brendan Gleeson covers the Bad Lieutenant side of the film (I use the connection very loosely of course), the Don Cheadle’s FBI man is the proverbial ‘fish out of water’ as we saw in In Bruges. A guy who doesn’t belong in the country, can’t communicate with the Gaelic community, and struggles at every turn. Sadly Cheadle’s role is underwritten, and I never felt a connection between the two leads but rather the focus always was on Gleeson. That’s fine because it is his character which is the most interesting and carries the film along, but the dichotomy of America meets Ireland and the massive differences between the two is never fully realised and I see this as a wasted opportunity to take a different approach on the buddy-cop theme. I know this isn’t supposed to be 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon, but having an actor like Cheadle involved could have lead to a lot more. In fact, take the American angle out of this film, and the film still works just as well. Gleeson could have been just as racist and obscene to another minority, and kept the same plot line.
For all the laughs that come from the ‘Irish charm’ of Gleeson, the film offers little else, and begins to lose its way once the effect of the constant obscenities wears off. Few things infuriate me more than when a script has it’s ‘tough-guy’ characters talking about philosophy and the arts and poetry in an attempt to break the mould of having them talk about their actual job. Post Pulp Fiction, it just strikes me a sloppy and not nearly as clever as the writer would have you think. The Guard falls in to this trap several times. Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh has created a very interesting central character, but I found the supporting roles to be lacking.
The film has been labeled as a western, but I think this is just a way of making it seem like something it isn’t; The Guard is not a modern western in the same way that, for example, James Mangold’s Copland was. Moreover, The Guard has its climatic shootout which is against the whole tone of the rest of the film. Westerns set their tone out from the very start and build up to the final showdown; The Guard appears to crowbar it in for no other reason than it wants a shootout.
The Guard is undeniably a good film, but nothing more than good. It is not this year’s In Bruges, it is not a modern western, and it is not as good as it thinks it is. Just because a film is British, doesn’t mean we can’t find its faults.
VERDICT: 6 OUT OF 10
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