The Guard (2011)
(15) Running time: 96 minutes
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Writer and director John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard won critical acclaim on its cinema release, and deservedly so. He is the younger brother of Martin McDonagh, the genius behind In Bruges, and you can see here that John is all set to follow in his older brothers footsteps. Like In Bruges, the comedy here is usually subtle and the majority of it comes through words rather than slapstick action, and those words come along quick and can often catch you of guard with no build up, so as with In Bruges, you will need to have your wits about you to catch some of the good stuff.
Brendan Gleeson delivers an inch perfect performance as Irish policeman Sergeant Gerry Boyle. He likes a good drink, the odd prostitute, is not afraid to dabble in drugs found on a dead lad, and can come across as a bit racist “I’m Irish; racism is part of my culture” Do you get the picture? He’s no Bad Lieutenant, more a gentle fella who just wants an easy life with not much bother, and so when American FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) comes to town with the news of a massive drug smuggling operation about to go down, poor old Boyle may actually have to do some work! The word is the smugglers are using a port near to where Boyle operates, and a meeting is held with a whole bunch of policemen, with Everett holding the conference to explain the situation. Boyle already has issues though as his new partner has gone missing, but for now it is not more than 24 hours so he needn’t worry, and a local lad has been murdered with a confusing “5 and a half” written on the wall in his blood. They have a suspect, or do they? And just who is this chilling man who has called anonymously about the murder?
The Guard sets up its story really well, with Gleeson being instantly likeable, and Cheadle playing the perfect opposite which leads the way for a dynamic comedy pairing. Each actor bounces off the other with superb comedy timing, Cheadle’s Everett clearly shocked at Boyle’s open racism “I thought black people couldn’t ski” says Boyle in an almost friendly conversation about their upbringings in a cafe. The conference where all the police are called in to hear what Everett has to say on the situation is genius, as Boyle puts his hand in the air after seeing pictures of the white drug dealers. Clearly confused and desperate for his say he asks the question “I thought only black lads were drug dealers” This could come across as offensive, but McDonagh handles these comments so well with the reactions of everyone else, it becomes painfully funny and perfectly timed. Other moments are just so silly they will make you laugh out loud, like hearing Boyle explain about his one and only trip to the US, and how he had his picture taken with Goofy in Disneyland, last year!
The Guard is extremely witty; often laugh out loud funny and actually very clever in parts. A final action scene is constructed so well that I defy anyone not to fall of their chair with laughter. There are a couple of plots running through the film too, and each serves a purpose, although some become a little distant form the story. Probably the best sub-plot is that of Boyle and his dying Mother, it offers up some touching, heartfelt scenes that show his gentle, caring side incredibly well and just might bring a tear to the eye. Dodgy dealings with police and drug dealers offer up a sinister side with some nasty violence, and the missing person story sadly goes nowhere. However, the stars of the show are Boyle’s and Everett, a pair you could watch on screen for a whole 90 minutes and not get bored at the way they behave toward one another. They do come close to being upstaged though, with Mark Strong’s grumpy, fed up gangster providing some of the films funniest responses, Liam Cunningham’s clear uptight and wanting to have nothing to do with his bumbling idiot drug dealers anymore character says very little but doesn’t need to say much, it is all in his facial expressions. And then there’s the psychotic gangster who doesn’t quite understand what kind of mad man he really is, and add to this some daft as Hell police and you have a near perfect cast who all deliver their lines and act out there comedic moments with perfection. If you enjoyed In Bruges, then you will absolutely love this!