Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Guard (2011, John Michael McDonagh)

There's a point in The Guard where Don Cheadle's straight-laced FBI agent says to Brendan Gleeson's unorthodox Irish police officer, "I can't tell if you're real mother fucking dumb, or real mother fucking smart", an aspect of the film's hugely entertaining and magnetic antihero that is truly mysterious and one which baffles to the very end.

The Guard is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh; brother of Martin McDonagh who gave us the sublime In Bruges (2008) also starring Gleeson. Both films share the same tone and humour - blending severe black comedy and nihilism with moments of touching humanist qualities. Fans of the earlier film must make The Guard mandatory viewing.

Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is introduced at the crash site of a fatal joy ride, he checks for signs of life amidst the young bodies all over the road with a cold indifference. He finds some ecstasy in one of the joy rider's pockets and without a second's thought puts one on his tongue. Boyle is a brash and ignorant man who only seems to enjoy life when in the company of his beloved prostitutes on his days off. As the film develops we see hidden layers revealed in Boyle's character that show him as a very different man than the one he like to show off.

The film's story is a simple one - FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) leads a team over to Ireland as they suspect a shipment of half a billions worth of cocaine will soon hit the shores of Galway. The men behind the shipment (Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong) dispose of Boyle's newly assigned partner by way of bad luck which leads Boyle to investigate. As Wendell finds himself well and truly out of his depth with the locals and he and Boyle's relationship becomes more respectful we're left with a film riddled with cliches and predictability saved by the sheer quality of McDonagh's writing. By the end of this Lethal Weapon meets Local Hero nothing has necessarily transpired that we didn't see coming but this isn't a problem thanks to a multilayered laugh-a-minute script that shows warmth and tenderness towards its characters. The Guard highlights the banality of the uninspired cookie cutter comedy drivel released these days.

Gerry Boyle is a joy to behold and is played note perfect by the brilliance of Brendan Gleeson. He is at times unlikable - narrow minded, thick skinned, smutty, and racist. As we're shown glimpses of this seemingly lonely man's life he becomes all the more endearing but more importantly fascinating. These glimpses come from Boyle visiting his terminally ill mother and the widow of his fallen partner. Boyle is compassionate and morally upstanding at heart and perhaps his throwaway attitude towards life comes from the realisation of life's often brutal nature, it's his way of coping and rebelling. By the end Boyle is the only cop Everett can trust.

The Guard is full of side splitting moments, my favourite being a tense moment in a restaurant as Boyle is given a tough ultimatum by a dangerous criminal; he just stares him down as he listens while downing his chocolate milkshake through a straw. The criminal leaves Boyle with his head in his hands seemingly out of despair, of course Boyle is just suffering from a self induced brain-freeze.

Moments such as these are at the heart of The Guard and make it an utter pleasure to sit through. Every character is immaculately conceived no matter what relevance they hold, Mark Strong's turn as a menacing 'heavy' equipped with philosophical meanderings is especially enjoyable. But no matter how good everyone is here, from fine performers such as Strong and Cheadle, The Guard is a success through the character of Sgt Gerry Boyle. A man to marvel at, to scratch your head over, and to warrant The Guard with many deserved repeat viewings.

For fans of: Fargo (1996), Hot Fuzz (2006), In Bruges (2008)