The Guard Directed by: John Michael McDonagh Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 5, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: After a group of drug smugglers are revealed to be using Boyle’s town as a place for a massive delivery, Boyle takes it on himself to look for these elusive thugs. To both of their dismay, a top FBI agent (Cheadle) is forced to be his partner, and the two must find some way of cooperating together to make things work.
WHO'S IT FOR?: The humor of this movie might sit best with those who had a great time with the Colin Farrell comedy In Bruges (which also starred Brendan Gleeson).
EXPECTATIONS: I didn't know anything about this movie before going into it.
Brendan Gleeson as Sgt. Boyle: As the title character, Gleeson is a bit of a crude charm (this is a good thing), with his sinful antics (hookers) and tendency to sound dumb, (when he’s actually quite smart). McDonagh’s script adds enough dimension to the character to make him memorable, and to keep him apart from plenty of other good/bad cops that he could lazily be lumped with. Gleeson can also simply be very amusing with his unpredictable nature. Score: 7
Don Cheadle as Wendell Everett: Acting alongside Don Cheadle, the two have an odd chemistry that works with Cheadle’s clean assumption of the “straight guy” role, and more specifically, as a black American in Ireland. Cheadle doesn’t necessarily have his own subplot in the movie, but McDonagh does use his characters unexpected appearance in a quiet Irish town to poke fun at racial naiveté, which speaks to an international level. This certainly gives this “good cop/bad cop” story a bit more to work with than just Nick Nolte’s cruel racism in 48 Hours, etc. Score: 6
TALKING: The dialogue of The Guard is very fast-paced, with a lot of wit inserted into a lot of the lines. Characters speak The Guard's quick dialogue with tact - quietly, and a good chunk of the time, effectively. Score: 6
SIGHTS: The film's cinematography makes beautiful wide shots out of quiet landmarks in the small town in which The Guard is taking place. The action scene at the end is the movie's most intense moment, and is also edited together masterfully. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Calexico adds music to the movie's soundtrack that sounds like it would fit even better in a western. Making a brash statement in the very beginning of his film, McDonagh uses the opening line to N.E.R.D's "Rock Star" at the very beginning of The Guard, and it is LOUD. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: While The Guard may not be a shoot ‘em up type of cop movie by any means, it does feature an exciting showdown at the end, which is certainly unexpected but also welcome. McDonagh shows here that he also has potential as an action director, this one with rushing tracking shots and brutal, no-holds-barred violence. With this scene alone and his gift for character development, I look forward to seeing what McDonagh has for us next.
ENDING: Boyle goes for a swim. Is he an Olympic swimmer or not?
QUESTIONS: You can read my interview with John Michael McDonagh after it is posted soon.
REWATCHABILITY: A bit down the road, I might check this movie out if in the company of someone who has never seen it before. But, this did happen when I saw In Bruges a second time, and my opinion on that film was relatively the same.
The Guard is written by the brother of the writer/director of In Bruges Martin McDonagh. That connection should give you enough of an idea how this movie handles a joke – a gag is often sandwiched between material that is either dark, dry, or both. The laughs themselves here are hit and miss, and require a particular taste. Perhaps those who liked In Bruges will find this more enjoyable than I did (of which there seemed to be a lot of people) – I just found a good chunk of it to be murky, or even a bit mean.
In general, the mood of The Guard can feel all over the place. There are moments when you’re not sure what’s a joke and what’s not. For other movies, this type of vagueness can lead to something special, but for The Guard it just makes for unsettling viewing.
The film's cinematography and score certainly suggest in one way or the other that The Guard wants to be like a western. Considering the complexity of Sgt. Boyle, first time director McDonagh certainly does have a compelling cowboy at the center of his strange world.
But, The Guard isn’t a consistent enough experience to be fully enjoyable, especially with its selective, dark humor. Some of the movie is good, some of it’s bad, and some of it just feels a tad too ugly.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10