Day: January 31, 2012

The Guard (2011)

What is this? A fish out of water comedy?A buddy flick? A western? A gosh and begorrah slice of Irish charm? A fat man being racist? In Bruges 2? An unconventional Irish policeman and an uptight FBI agent teaming up to thwart a drug smuggling operation seems to plant us firmly in Lethal Weapon territory but The Guard is content to absorb it’s influences and then serve up a film of diversity and originality. A kind of Midnight Run/ High Noon melange with maybe a dash of Graham Linehan’s gentle savaging of the Irish in the writing.

Brenden Gleeson and his gigantic Irish head play Seargent Gerry Boyle, a man who’s only likeable traits appear to be; a certain comic brashness, a good relationship with his mother (not in a Psycho way) and an unspecified incident in his past where he may, may have done the right thing. Now content to live a quiet life occasionally filled with prostitutes he’s almost annoyed by the crimes committed in his rainy Galway patch because they will disturb his (possibly) self inflicted exile from society i.e. Dublin. Gleeson is superb, an actor comfortable in whatever skin given him but even more so when presented with characters he acutely observed whilst growing up. A role with few words, most of them obscene, doesn’t stop him filling the screen with his presence, his head and a shambling nature that wraps Ireland about him like a cloak. His hostility towards everyone and particularly Special Agent Everett is passsive aggressive at best and world weary in nature, his casual racism said more to see a reaction than through genuine ignorance, his attitudes towards women fairly modern considering the prostitutes…..

Aside from a general feeling that any black FBI agents should be played as Agent Johnson from Die Hard and any white FBI agents should be modelled along the lines of Agent Johnson from Die Hard, Don Cheadle gives a fine performance here. As an actor he manages to be both handsome and charming whilst still looking plausably like a man who both works for the American Government and has yet to have the large stick removed from his rectum. This fits the role of  Agent Wendell Everett perfectly, Cheadle is calm, controlled and just officious enough to remain real, displaying none of the bragadaccio that sends most celluloid FBI agents into a spiral of charicatures and thinly veiled digs at their masters (Agent Johnson’s being the exception, obviously).

DIrecting from his own story and script allows John Michael Mcdonagh the freedom from misinterpretation that comes with adapting your own words. Conversely this adds to the pressure as any faults can’t be laid at anyone else’s feet. On the whole, the direction is excellent.Everything makes sense structurally (not morally), nothing is overplayed or made too obvious and jokes hit their mark whilst aiding the story. A good swimming joke proves to be pertinent later and brings the Jewhunter’s “giant pipe” gag in the opening scenes of Inglorious Basterds to mind. There is a slight pacing issue with the occasional flashy, look at me, Lock Stock camera work sitting uncomfortably with the otherwise gentle, forlorn in a good way amble the rest of The Guard hums along at.

Arizona’s finest, Calexico have written and performed the score, lending the Western overtures on display a significant hand. Guitars are picked and strings wail as empty saloons, deserted landscapes and dusty roads are picked out by the crisp cinematography of Larry Smith. Interestingly, the three villains fall nicely into a good, bad and ugly triptych that further enhances the Leone legacy that increases as the film builds to it’s satisfying, against the odds shootout on the docks.

With philosophy spouting criminals, idyllic pubs, a lovely ensemble of sharply observed locals and a free wheeling, magpie like philosophy with genre, The Guard is scabrous, heartfelt and shot through with pathos come the nicely measured denouement.

So if you only see one blackly comic, Irish crime thriller made in the last few years watch In Bruges, then watch this, then maybe The General, then I Went Down……….

Friends with Benefits (2011)

Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) are two annoyingly attractive successful embryos, who make a pact to have no strings attached sex till they meet their soul mates or die. Whichever comes first. Unfortunately, it’s not death.

Friends with Benefits is like a companion piece to Love and Other Disasters, in that both are horrendous examples of knowing genre comedy. The first warning sign comes when Timberlake deconstructs a fictional rom-com (which, starring Jason Segal, is actually lot more entertaining). Pointing out the various cliches, we the audience are invited to chortle along and agree that yes, Justin, that film is really stupid. We are the clever ones for watching this modern celluloid masterpiece instead. Except…

Except Friends with Benefits just doesn’t live up to Timberlake’s ideals. Within 10 minutes of Kunis and Timberlake doing the front bum tango, the film falls into the same saccharine territory which many of it’s bastard offspring has trodden before. Kunis has abandonment issues due to an absent mother. Meanwhile, Timberlake’s sister is Dharma from Dharma and Greg. Oh yeah, and his dad suffers from Alzheimer’s. Hollywood Alzheimer’s, that is. The type where you mention a loved one’s name staring off into the distance, whilst everyone looks embarrassed. The revelation of Timberlake’s parental mentel state is such a stark contrast to the rest of the film’s tone, it muddies the whole thing and you feel guiltier for watching then you did before. At least Kunis’s mum can’t remember who her dad is because she’s slept around so much. Haha, sluts are funny right? But it’s okay because the J-man’s dad also takes his trousers off in restaurants. Thats funny, right? See, proposed reduced synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine can be fun!

Oh who cares… Friends with Benefits is a horrible, cynical film with fart jokes, unlikable characters and a misguided attempt to look at ‘real issues’. The ending, when it arrives like rain in the desert, is true rom-com logic with the word ‘fuck’ thrown in, but because everyone is so busy winking at the camera and slapping each other on the back, they don’t seem to notice or care. With frends like these, who needs enemies. Avoid.