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Thread: THE GUARD (John Michael McDonagh 2011)

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    Jul 2002
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    THE GUARD (John Michael McDonagh 2011)

    John Michael McDonagh: THE GUARD (2011)
    Review by Chris Knipp


    Seedy Ireland: another McDonagh captures the screen

    John Michael McDonagh's feature directing debut is a tongue-in-cheek Irish police story about tracking down drug traffickers that favors its eccentric, rather unscrupulous hero, a pudgy officer played by Brendan Gleeson. McDonagh's brilliant playwright younger brother Martin (who himself debuted as a movie director with In Bruges three years ago) produced -- or at least got Gleeson to read the screenplay, having known him better from directing him in In Bruges. Gleeson's turn, backed up by contrast with an American FBI man played by Don Cheadle, was good enough to get a round of applause from the audience when his name appeared in the end credits at the screening I watched.

    Michael McDonagh has hitherto been primarily a screenwriter, and he goes to town with dialogue rich in elaborate references. Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) finds his aged mother, at a retirement home, reading Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov. The cover flashes on the screen. It's not the sort of book you expect to see casually mentioned.

    Sergeant Boyle is the sort of cavalier cop who destroys evidence for the hell of it, and steals and drops a tab of LSD from a corpse at a road accident. In the middle of a big investigation he takes the day off and shacks up with two big city prostitutes. His bailiwick is a sleepy Galway town, and a lot of the humor is directed at city slickers from Dublin. The Garda sent to him from there, Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan) is overenthusiastic and gay and gets himself killed for his zeal when he spots the three traffickers (one of whom is English, with an edge, and played well by Mark Strong), but hasn't the moxie to corral them. There's a nod to Ireland's international flavor today because McBride's widow is a blond Croatian lass (Katarina Cas) whom Boyle fancies but doesn't touch.

    When a black FBI agent is sent in the person of Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), Boyle immediately insults him in front of a mob of cops with racist remarks and excuses himself with the lines, "I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture." Boyle and Everett become a classic unlikely duo who do battle with the villains. Boyle keeps assuming his new mate came from the projects and had a hard life. He's set straight by Everett, who tells him he came from privilege and attended a fancy prep school and Yale and was a Rhodes Scholar. "Do you know what a Rohdes Scholar is?" asks the American. "Kris Kristofferson," Boyle replies.

    The three drug traffickers are a salty and unsavory lot. One of them, Liam O'Leary (David Wilmot), a loose cannon with long, scraggly hair, carefully insists to his buddies that he's a sociopath, not a psychopath.

    Most of the time it's all about everything but the action -- the dialogue, the dark, musty settings, and eccentric character, which is allowed to flourish, though Cheadle himself sometimes seems as uneasy as his odd-man-out FBI American. He is saddled with being simply the objective correlative of the screenplay's half serious annoyance at the invasion of Yank culture into Irish life. Boyle has enough cojones for the both of them, but Everett turns out to be tough and seasoned. The weakness of The Guard is that in this quiet backwater setting, and given the importance of a good line and a tasty pint of bitter, catching the criminals seems so much less than urgent that the action tends to come almost to a halt at times. Brother Martin may have carried this rhythm off better in In Bruges; his wit and his sense of the outrageous and absurd are stronger than brother John's. But there is a violent shootout that goes up in flames for a finale, and The Guard comes to a satisfying, if deliberately ambiguous, conclusion. We will look for more from brother John. The two English-born Irish lads are clearly cut from the same choice cloth.

    The Guard opened the Edinburgh Festival and won honorable mention as Best Debut Film in Berlin and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Theatrical release in the US July 29, the UK August 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-07-2011 at 11:48 PM.


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