The Guard – 2011
Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Starring Brendan Gleason, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, David Wilmot, Michael Og Lane, Dominique McElligott, Rory Keenan
Early on in The Guard, I got the ringing sense of familiarity. At first, I couldn’t place it. There was a ton of swearing with Gaelic accents, and more than a little violence. Brash and somewhat crazed killers running a drug operation, an unconventional police officer, called a Garda in Ireland, who works better alone, and a straight-laced FBI agent who is in town trying to disrupt the ring. It wasn’t until spent some time together, alone in a car that I placed it: this is an Irish version of Lethal Weapon.
It’s not a facsimile, for sure. Gleeson’s, Boyle is not suicidal, unless you take his off day proclivities into account. Cheadle’s FBI Agent Everett is not about to retire, and he definitely isn’t “…too old for this shit.” Too American might me more like it.
“I don’t know if you’re really mutha-(expletive) smart… or really mutha-(expletive) dumb,” Everett says during the car ride. So far, all the members of the Garda have been seemingly co-operative with Everett. Boyle has been contrary, to say the least. Contrary, but on point.
Soon enough we find Boyle, the only member of the Garda who colors outside the lines, is the only one that has a bee-line on the operation. This gets him noticed by the bad guys, of course, who try to separate him from Everett until they can get him out of town.
The time they get to spend together, though, is pretty entertaining, in a slower, more Irish version of Lethal Weapon kind of way. Gleeson is totally at ease here, but then, I rarely see him tense up in front of the camera. The role has some excellent subtle touches, and then some that aren’t so subtle. It is nice that he is getting some attention for a leading role, because he has done this in a supporting role forever.
Cheadle is one of the rare supporting actors who always seems smarter than everyone else on-screen. It’s a different case here. Everyone here seems nice and idiotic, or in Boyle’s case obtuse and nearly crazy stupid. He is being played on both counts, but Boyle is only playing because he is bored.
As for the criminal element, I found them to be a decent mix. I was thankful to find that Mark Strong wasn’t playing the lead antagonist. Most movies where he is tend to tank, both artistically and at the box office. David Wilmot is entertaining as the one who knows that he is a sociopath, and not a psychopath, but only because his therapist told him this. Cunningham is shrewdly menacing in that role as Sheely-Skeffington.
One of the characters that helps to give Boyle his depth in the film is his mother, Eileen, poignantly portrayed by Fionnula Flanagan. Sick, and stoically looking for a way to end her suffering, she is comforted by her son’s presence. One gets a real sense of a bond between the two, in the most subtle way. They are direct, but avoid being overly dramatic. His relationship with his mother is a direct parallel with that of his new partner. Flanagan is the rare, wonderful actor, who radiates of intelligence, depth and pain. Seeing her in her state in this film was jarring for how authentically she plays it.
The Guard received much high praise, probably more than it deserved. This is primarily, because it’s a nice little movie coming out of what many people in the Western world think of as “a nice little country.” Ireland has that effect on people. No one expects much out of it. In this way, Gleeson’s Garda represents Ireland’s impression of itself to the rest of the world. Looks kind of slow, seems kind of dumb, and no one knows how it keeps going. Slow and easy wins the race. Eventually.
(***1/2 out of *****)