Very Highly Recommended
Having seen the quirky and extraordinarily entertaining The Guard, I am reminded of that classic quip describing the United States and England as being two countries separated by a common language. While I suspect that I am speaking for many when I say that the thick Irish brogue of most of the actors prevented me from understanding at least a quarter of the dialogue, The Guard remains one of the most perversely delightful movie experiences I’ve had this year. With a biting original script from John Michael McDonogh, who also directs, The Guard is a gem of a movie.
Set entirely in Ireland, The Guard builds on the solid cinematic tradition reflected by Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996), Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake (2004). It is dark, dry and wickedly funny, and I can’t recall being to a movie this year where the audience so frequently laughed out loud.
The wonderful Brendan Gleeson, undoubtedly one of the most underappreciated character actors working today, plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a semi-honest Irish cop leading a life of lost chances and wasted dreams. Crude, rude and unsophisticated, he spends his off hours caring for his dying mother (an absolutely devilish Fionnula Flanagan) when not engaged in sexual romps with two bubbly prostitutes. Played by Dominique McGelligot and Sarah Greene, they are as enthusiastic as they are effervescent, and in the process they burnish the reputation of the world’s oldest profession.
But the days of Sgt. Boyle flying under life’s radar screen with his routine of whores and frequent mid-day pints of Guinness come to a screeching halt with the arrival of an African-American FBI Agent who has been put in charge of an international drug investigation centered in his coastal area of Ireland.What follows is chaos on a level not seen in Ireland since the Great Potato Famine of the mid-19th century.
Special Agent Wendell Everett, played by Don Cheadle with his customary laid back charm, is first and foremost a black man who challenges Boyle’s limited but horribly inappropriate social awareness. While The Guard is an excellent film for multiple reasons, nothing exceeds the absurdly dysfunctional relationship between Cheadle’s agent and Gleeson’s socially clueless Irish cop.
Cheadle is only slightly less prepared for investigating crime in rural Ireland than Gleeson is relating to an African-American as a police partner. In particular, there is a moment early in their relationship where you see them both sharing a beer while discussing the criminal investigation. Suddenly, Gleeson asks the incredulous Cheadle, “Did you grow up in the projects?” When Cheadle responds that he actually grew up in a privileged background in the Hamptons that involved occasionally going to Colorado to ski, Gleeson earnestly responds, “I thought you people couldn’t ski?” And after a short pause as he stares at the dumbfounded Cheadle, Gleeson adds, “Or was that swimmin’?” You are going to love these two guys.
An additional strength of The Guard is that it unfolds with a marvelous array of crooked cops and spirited psychopathic drug dealers. The latter are played with a maniacal glee by Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and Darren Healy, and they are equal parts despicable yet wildly entertaining mad men. It’s as if you would combine the DNA of Hannibal Lector (minus the cannibalism) with that of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
What also contributes to making The Guard so fabulous is the fact that Director McDonogh allows his fine cast of actors to play to their strengths. Mr. Gleeson is a bear of a man with the personality of a pixie, something most of you already know from such golden performances as his “Mad Eye” Moody in the Harry Potter films as well as his poignant performance as a hit man with a tender heart opposite Colin Farrell in In Bruges (2008). As for Mr. Cheadle, you will be hard pressed to find any better performance than his role as the tragically flawed radio DJ Petey Greene in Talk to Me (2007) and as Paul Rusesabagina, the man who stood tall during the ghastly genocide taking place in Africa in the powerful Hotel Rwanda (2004). Finally, no one in Hollywood today plays a better villain than Mark Strong, as he displayed in Robin Hood (2010), Sherlock Holmes (2009) and RocknRolla (2008).
The Guard is a comedy with a screenplay full of Irish piss and vinegar. It is scatologically politically incorrect, and all the better for it. The only mild criticism that I would make is that Director McDonogh would have been well advised to have made more extensive use of sub-titles at critical moments much as Danny Boyle did in the aforementioned Trainspotting. Like it or not, a bit of the experience is lost as you are left straining to repeatedly catch critical punch lines.
On the other hand, this may be one of those rare, intriguing films that might be better seen at home where you can access the use of sub-titles. Quite honestly, I can’t wait to do so.