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……….

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