Thursday, 5 January 2012
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, and Mark Strong
By Blair Stewart
John Michael McDonagh's The Guard approaches the hoary old fish-out-of-water/mismatched buddy-cop genre and leaps nimbly over those critical bear traps as if it was a ballerina in the pub avoiding a snoring drunk. Brendan Gleeson, the Irish character actor of great repute and anamorphic girth, is the local Guarda (Gaelic for 'Cop'), none too perturbed about his work as long as it's not interrupting his casual whoring and chemical intake. As amusing as it would be to spend a few hours or so with the big ginger lug shirking duty, a great calamity befalls our Sergeant Gerry Boyle: he has to get off his ass when big city criminals – tailed by sedulous FBI big shot Wendell (Don Cheadle) – show up in County Galway.
On cue a corpse pops up in the area after the rumour of a boat carrying half a billion dollars in street value coke ("What street are you buying your cocaine on?" - Gerry) is on the way, and our anti-hero pairs with Wendell to take the piss out of the Yank while they slap down the bad guys. Said bad guys on the opposite end of the thin blue line (that Gerry crosses all the time with gusto) are a trio of enjoyably literate thugs played at descending levels of cynicism by Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot. Eventually, they'll all run into each other and wackiness will ensue.
Typically when faced with a plotline that could reasonably be described as an 'easygoing Lethal Weapon meets Local Hero with a dash of Western Ireland malarkey' I would attempt to pull a fire alarm or commit an act of self-harm, and yet McDonagh's film works for me. In the tailored role Gleeson is superbly entertaining as Gerry, his dopey grin taking the edge off of the small-town racism/tactlessness booming from his mouth. I can only count on two hands a cinematic character as enjoyable to watch as Gleeson's Gerry, somewhere between Tom Regan and Sanjuro on the right one. How much better Hollywood would be if Officer Gerry could pop into some earnest Oscar chaff to dress down the Sean Penns and Will Smiths in a cameo. I'd happily pay top dollar to see that. Don Cheadle's Southern accent slips a few times, but one of his strengths has been his ability to sell a reaction shot, and The Guard (which he helped produce, good on him) has a slew of those while Gleeson does his shtick.
As, unfortunately, most mainstream films (or even indie films, whether local or abroad) demonstrate, it is unwise to slavishly follow the formula of a genre completely. Where a tired formula can be improved upon is in individuality, as McDonagh trots out memorable oddballs from his neck of the woods – or his parents’ neck of the woods really; John and his brother Martin of Six Shooter/In Bruges fame grew up in London – to liven up the surroundings and by treating his audience with respect by making his oddballs witty, and thankfully, intelligent. The Guard earned its climax when I actually cared about what happened to Gerry and Wendell, something very few films succeed at.
If the disposable likes of Cowboys and Aliens depresses the hell out of you, and if you enjoy a filthy joke as much as the next guy, give this film a chance. After all, Ireland's economy needs the money.*
*Sorry, couldn't resist.
The Guard is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Alliance Films in Canada.