Tuesday, January 3, 2012

DVD Review: The Guard

The Guard *** ½
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh.
Written by: John Michael McDonagh.
Starring: Brendan Gleeson (Sergeant Gerry Boyle), Don Cheadle (FBI agent Wendell Everett), Liam Cunningham (Francis Sheehy), David Wilmot (Liam O'Leary), Rory Keenan (Garda Aidan McBride), Mark Strong (Clive Cornell), Fionnula Flanagan (Eileen Boyle), Dominique McElligott (Aoife O'Carroll), Sarah Greene (Sinead Mulligan), Katarina Cas (Gabriela McBride).

Brendan Gleeson is one of those character actors who seemingly shows up in supporting roles 5 or 6 times each year – and no matter the quality of the film, you can always count on him to deliver a fine performance. Only rarely though does he really get to let loose in a lead role. He brought humanity to the profane, crime comedy In Bruges for example, but his best role to date remains his breakthrough one in John Boorman’s excellent The General. His work in The Guard can stand right alongside that performance – the movie itself is a very entertaining, though very predictable crime comedy – but Gleeson elevates it with his magnificent performance.

Gleeson stars as Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an Irish cop, with a weakness for prostitutes, although other than that, he’s a straight shooter. When an FBI Agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) shows up in his small town, saying that four Irish gangsters are smuggling in cocaine with a street value of $500 million, Boyle is confused, and raises his hand during Wendell’s presentation. “Are all drug dealers black?”, he wants to know. Despite this racist comment, Boyle ends up going on the rounds with Wendell, trying to find out where theyare hiding. Why? Because he knows that one of the four of them is already dead.

The Guard proceeds in much the manor you would expect it to. The case isn’t overly complicated, and doesn’t take a lot of twists and turns. We know who the bad guys are, and so do Boyle and Wendell – they just have to find them. What isn’t predictable is Boyle himself. At one point, Wendell looks at him and says “I can’t tell if you’re really fucking smart, or really fucking stupid”, and Boyle just smiles his dopey smile. We’re not sure either. Gleeson’s performance is big and bold – he takes center stage early, and never relinquishes it. Whether he’s having fun on his day off with two prostitutes, using his gruff interrogation style on suspects or simply talking to Wendell, you are never quite sure what he’s going to say or do. It’s a treat to see an actor as great as Gleeson get a role like this.
Written and directed by first timer John Michael McDonagh, The Guard shows makes him as an up and comer. He avoids the trap that many debut directors fall into of trying to do too much – cramming their movies with subplots and characters that don’t add much to the movie itself. The Guard on the other hand is clean, straight forward and simple. It is chock full of great one liners and is entertaining and funny from start to finish. And in Boyle, Gleeson finds a lovable, charming, profane, perhaps stupid, perhaps brilliant, character to play – and he relishes every moment of it.

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