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The Guard (2011,Ireland)

15/01/2012

Director: John Michael McDonagh         Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong

Brendan Gleeson is one of those actors who just seems to be irrepressibly watchable in films, even when the films aren’t particularly good. Whether he’s in big budget international blockbusters (Gangs Of New York, Harry Potter, Braveheart) or more modest, independent fare (the phenomenal In Bruges, the risible Perrier’s Bounty) he always manages to shine on screen, his natural charisma and screen presence redeeming even the most unlikeable of characters. Martin McDonagh’s jet black bumbling hitmen comedy In Bruges is most likely my favourite of his films that I have seen but this similarly shaded comedy thriller (penned and helmed by McDonagh’s brother John) is very probably a close second.

Set in rural Ireland, Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox if somewhat committed member of the Garda, keeping the streets of his village beat safe. His peaceful existence is shattered when FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) turns up with news of a major drug deal about to take place in the area. With the rest of the local police force on the bad guys’ payroll it’s up to Boyle to convince Everett that they are the only people who can bring the villains to justice.

It’s rather difficult to find anything negative to say about this film. The performances are superb, the writing excellent (if more than a little reminiscent in style to the other McDonagh but really, could you consider this a bad thing) and manages to integrate plenty of literary and music references into the dialogue effortlessly, avoiding that horrible clunkiness you often get when writers try to do this that breaks the flow of the scenes. Here it seems perfectly natural for three men to be discussing their favourite philosophers on a car journey or for Gerry to have a lively discussion with his mother about Russian novelist or for would be assassins to comment on the choice of record their intended victim has made for evening listening.

It’s funny too, largely because of the quality of the dialogue but partially because of the delivery, the characters tormenting each other in typically Irish fashion with a combination of sarcasm, cheek and generally good craic. Much like In Bruges, this is balanced against some perfectly proportioned tragedy that prevents the film drifting off into the land of farce and which provides the basis for some of the film’s darker moments.

With In Bruges, Gleeson was very much part of a double act, frequently playing the straight man to Colin Farrell’s more intrinsically comic role but here, despite the odd couple relationship developed between Gerry and Wendell, it really is all about Gleeson. He plays Gerry as a brash, carefree individual who couldn’t care less about what other people think of him as in spite of his obvious flaws (he’s a bit racist, he dabbles in drug use and uses prostitutes among other things, although not in a Bad Lieutenant kind of way) he knows, as does everybody else, that he is real police with both a natural aptitude for the work and the integrity and drive to see it through to its conclusion, no matter how difficult. In the process he comes across as an almost Columbo type figure – consistently underesitmated due to his wisecracking persona but using this as a front to hide the intuition and deductive power beneath. He swears a bit more than Columbo though.

It does lack some of the finesse on display in Martin McDonagh’s work but then this is John McDonagh’s first feature and, perhaps more importantly, you wouldn’t want him to just be a carbon copy of his brother anyway. On the strength of this he definitely has the potential for a long and interesting career, assuming he can avoid the Guy Ritchie trap of making the same film over and over again. Certainly if you like your humour dark, clever and irreverent, have a thing for Irish accents or simply want to see Brendan Gleeson in his pants, then this is definitely the film for you.

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