Friday, July 15, 2011

The Guard

Written & Directed by: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot

Rating: 8/10

The Irish sense of humour is a strange beast; disrespectful but warm, xenophobic but friendly, indignant yet self-deprecating. A strange beast it may be but it is also one of this nations finest attributes. With The Guard, John Michael McDonagh has managed to capture the spirit of Irish humour with all it's darkness and all it's irreverent charm. Following Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) during an uncharacteristically action-packed week on the beat in rural Galway, the film sees three philosphising drug smugglers arriving in town, followed closely by straight-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle).

Gerry is smart as a whip but doesn't suffer fools gladly and likes to indulge in drink, drugs and prostitutes whenever possible. He is not your conventional rural Irish guard. His intolerance of the bureaucracy involved in police work, especially a big case like this, is the backbone of the character but essentially he is also a man of great integrity and compassion where he feels it's deserved. As he becomes unwittingly embroiled in this case, Gerry manages to offend but ultimately endear himself to the straight-laced American Wendell  Everett, who is getting something of a hard time from the locals. Over time these two highly intelligent men from completely different backgrounds learn to respect each other amidst a sea of mind games and cutting jibes flying both ways.

Don't be fooled by the elements of "bromance", The Guard is a character study, plain and simple. The plot and the supporting cast are secondary to exploring this fascinating character. Brendan Gleeson relishes the role of a lifetime with class, dignity and humour, allowing the character to remain just mysterious enough that we never know what to expect of him. This bravura performance helps to cover up some of the flaws in the film, most notably, the poor direction especially when it comes to the final act action scenes. As streamlined as the script is, the film would have benefited hugely from a more experienced director. That being said The Guard is hugely enjoyable, the jokes are killer, the main cast are superb and there is just enough intelligence to raise the bar, but not enough to make it feel pretentious.

Credit must go to Mark Strong, David Wilmot and Liam Cunningham for their portrayal of a trio of drug smugglers who are smart enough to know not to underestimate Gerry but stupid enough to think that they could emerge victorious. They are funny but somehow also menacing, giving the film an essential sense of danger. The dark undertones in the film help to ensure that audiences know that there is always something at stake and this is not your average comedy.

The Guard is exactly what the Irish film industry needs right now, a brave, solid genre film with enough substance to endear itself to an international market. With a cracking cast, an endlessly quotable script and a unique voice, this film is undoubtedly a classic of Irish cinema.

 - Charlene Lydon

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