Monday 25 July, 2011

The Guard

Runtime: 96 mins | Director: John Michael McDonagh

Review By Delme Stephenson 

Director/writer John Michael McDonagh has crafted a surprisingly unique black comedy that achieves the rarest of things - it actually makes you laugh. The film has a notable cast, but its Brendan Gleeson performance that undoubtedly holds everything together. It’s not flawless, but it’s easily one of the better comedies of the year. 

'The Guard' will be inevitably compared with ‘In Bruges’ as they both share similar dark comic tones and great turns from Gleeson amongst others. Interestingly enough the directors of the above mentioned films are also brothers, with Martin McDonagh the director of 'In Bruges' also executive producing this project. 'In Bruges' was a brillantly realised project, so any comparisons made between the two are entirely favourable. Although ‘The Guard’ marks its own territory, it isn’t as blisteringly impressive as ‘In Bruges’ and does suffer from a few shortcomings. On the whole it is a noteworthy, if not an entirely memorable success.    

The film is about Police Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) a small-town cop who works and lives in the Connemara region in the west coast of Ireland. Boyle has a very unorthodox approach to his work and a darkly humorous outlook on life. He’s the type of cop that doesn’t mind experimenting with drugs and has a soft spot for hookers.  However Boyle’s dubious moral code is soon tested when austere FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) appears on the scene and needs his help in busting an international cocaine-smuggling ring run by Sheehy (Liam Cunningham) and Cornell (Mark Strong). If this wasn’t enough Boyle also has to deal with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanaga), the disappearance of an overtly enthusiastic police partner and the signs of a serial killer.        

‘The Guard’ is a cleverly conceived film, McDonagh’s script sparkles with wit and humour, but it is Gleeson that carries the film over the finishing line, with a ‘tour de force’ performance. McDonagh makes the audience cheerfully aware that his story is primarily playing on the Hollywood ‘buddy cop’ film while also paying homage to the ‘Western’. However the film works best as a character study simply because McDonagh and Gleeson have made Sergeant Gerry Boyle someone of interest. In essence Boyle is a man of honour and intelligence, but also a man who is always saying the wrong things at the wrong time. It soon becomes clear that Boyle’s virtues are hidden behind a partition of cynicism, melancholy and perhaps even anger. It’s wonderful how Gleeson manages to channel the inner workings of a character who often appears inept, comical and crass. It is for this reason that Don Cheadle’s FBI character is the perfect foil for Boyle, with the two sparring and bickering perfectly. Unfortunately their relationship doesn’t work on the same level as say of those of Nolte and Murphy in’48 Hrs.’ or Gibson and Glover in ‘Lethal Weapon’. The most interesting relationship is not between Boyle and Everett but between Boyle and his dying mother. It is the one relationship in the film that seems not only to convey genuine emotion but also reveals the true heart of our protagonist.    

The film does waste some of its talented cast members. Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham as the villains of the piece are criminally underused and underdeveloped. However both are more than capable of fleshing out their parts. Mark Strong in particular has a wonderful scene where he explains to two corrupt police officers the principles of a bribe.        

‘The Guard’ doesn’t have the financial muscle of many other comedies released this year but it is a genuinely funny black comedy. It’s not a game-changer, but as a comedy it certainly hits the spot.     

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