Written and Directed by John McDonagh
There are times when one reaches a fork in the road at BOFA. Both destinations are equally enticing but ultimately a decision has to be made about which road one will take to get where they need to go. One way or the other, I was going to a film. My problem was that they were both playing at the same time. As you can imagine this presents a number of challenges and after making my decision I am now faced with a whole new set of challenges. I want to write so much but give away so little.
Directed by first time feature film director John McDonagh, The Guard is a film clever enough to reach behind our ear and then present us with a coin leaving us a little gobsmacked, not so much at the trick, but the fact that the trickster is so bloody slick. Excuse the mild profanity, but let me advise that ‘bloody’ may as well be a snow-white kitten sleeping in a bed of fairy dust compared to the conversation exchanges of most characters in the film. Having said that however, every word spoken throughout this film has been written and delivered with such precision that it only serves to enhance the likeability of the characters at every turn.
The Guard is set in the remote and beautiful costal village of Connemara in Ireland. The pace of the film in the opening sequence is set by juxtaposing the quaint stone walls and rolling green hills of an Irish village with a high-speed alcohol induced car crash and a tab-popping policeman (known as a Guard) who stares out to sea with bodies littering the road behind him. It is here that Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendon Gleeson) carelessly utters one of the best opening lines to a title sequence that I have seen in quite a while. In fact, the only thing that I can compare it to is the closing words of Tyler Durden (Ed Norton) in David Fincher’s 1999 masterpiece Fight Club.
What ensues is the kind of story that you expect to find set against a typically American backdrop – murder, drugs, corruption, prostitution, bribery, and camaraderie. What a relief that this film uses those elements, yet presents them with the kind of cream that could only be delivered with a script, location and cast such as this one. Make no mistake, this film is a comedy, but it is dark. Dark, dark humour that is at times so clever and hilarious that given the sub-plots, you may feel ashamed for laughing just that little bit too loudly. Even Boyle’s dying mother retains her wit until the very end to make us feel for her yet recoil also in her tongue, that while not exactly forked, allows enough to question what her suppressed desires were in a life that she will shortly leave.
The American presence is there with Don Cheadle playing FBI agent Wendell Everett, but his character is very much the big fish that is in a pond clearly not his own, and refreshingly, reminded as such. Not only do the Americans take a subtle beating, but also those from Dublin so this film spares no one, just like the personality of it’s leading man. Gleeson’s Boyle dispenses his thoughts with an indifference that is admirable. His character is very clever indeed and the film never truly resolves if he is a brilliant mind content with his lot or so numbed by it that he simply doesn’t care.
The baddies are there too. With the awesome combination of Mark Strong, David Wilmot and Liam Cunnignham assuming the roles of such diverse yet intelligent and ponderous criminals, it is hard as to decide who deserves a bit more attention due to their likeability. Yes, even the token bad-guys in this film appealed to my inner philosopher. The aquarium scene in which they have a heart-to-heart (sort of) is excellent. Settling down is pondered briefly as the sociopath of the trio contemplates monogamy. Fantastic.
The Guard is a clever film indeed that, while following the standard model of the good guys versus the bad, it does so in a way that reflects the centre character as flawed, caring, needy and ultimately human. No tough guy here. This of course means our hero is somewhat overweight, deals with his family, drinks a pint or two, addresses his sexual needs, and does his job with the contempt that, after a while, most of us do.
What a beautiful fucking day.