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Published on July 18th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie

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The Guard Film Review: An Enjoyable But Mistake-Strewn Movie

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Director: John Michael McDonagh.
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle and Liam Cunningham.
The Guard finds an FBI agent and local Garda Sergeant teaming up to stop a trio of drug dealers from bringing in a half a billion dollar drugs haul into Ireland. Along the way, the duo encounter multiple murders, an idiosyncratic public and a dysfunctional police force.
FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) And Garda Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Glesson) In The Guard

‘What redeems an otherwise repugnant character is his sense of duty and an unknowable something that transcends his crudeness.’

The Guard is an enjoyable and often funny romp. Brimming over with clichés, the humour is obvious rather than sharp although at times it does surprise. When the film is flowing, its dialogue is funny and the acting is crisp and engrossing. At its worst, the plot is nonsensical and plagued with credibility issues.

So where does The Guard reside, fortunately it tends to be quite entertaining and many of its problems can be overlooked due its sheer enjoyable nature. If the kinks were worked out and the clichés removed, with better writing we would be looking at a masterpiece.

Sergeant Jerry Boyle is rambunctious, cynical and, on ocassion, malevolent. He enjoys irritating, offending and unbalancing people. What redeems an otherwise repugnant character is his sense of duty and an unknowable something that transcends his crudeness.

Garda Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Glesson) In The Guard

The performance of Brendan Gleeson dominates the film, both in terms of his character and stature. Coarse and boorish with a penchant for prostitutes, Gleeson plays the part with an ease and sense of style that is unique. His racist remarks are funny as he goads the black American agent with a pathological glee.

Don Cheadle, as the frustrated FBI agent, Wendell Everett, provides strong support to Gleeson. The antithesis of Boyle, his character is slick, efficient and polished. The relationship Everett has with Boyle is one in which he constantly switches from confusion to frustration, back to confusion again.

Liam Cunningam’s portrayal of the gang leader, Francis Sheehy, is excellent. Undoubtedly, the brains of the operation, Sheehy leaves the menacing aspects to others in his employ. His sociopath/psychopath underling, Liam O’Leary is both funny and psychotic. O’Leary, played by the highly competent David Wilmot, provides some of the most dramatic scenes in the film.

Liam O'Leary(David Wilmot), Francis Sheehy (Liam Cunningham) And Clive Cornell (Mark Strong) In The Guard

‘She just cannot act and her inclusion rockets the film into amateur status whenever she is on screen.’

Less satisfying is the performance from Fionnuala Flanagan, who plays the mother of Sergeant Boyle. She borders too heavily on the tropes of the unconventional mother figure. What we get is a stock performance that we have seen many times before. Gary Lyndon’s portrayal of Garda Inspector Gerry Staunton is especially inadequate. Incredibly stupid, it is just too big a step to ask the audience to believe that Staunton could have ever risen to his position of prominence. What’s more, Staunton’s character is thinner than a cardboard cut-out.

However, the worst performance comes from Katarina Cas who plays the wife of Garda McBride. She just cannot act and her inclusion rockets the film into amateur status whenever she is on screen.

Better balance and redemption comes from the acting performances of Mark Strong, as the unyielding, unflinching criminal, Clive Cornell, and Rory Keenan as the enigmatic Garda McBride.

Garda Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Glesson) With Two Prostitutes In The Guard

‘McDonagh’s obsession with American culture continually interrupts the film and removes it from its reality.’

The problems with The Guard are numerous and it would be disingenuous and wrong to ignore them. McDonagh’s obsession with American culture continually interrupts the film and removes it from its reality. Virtually, all of the characters share McDonagh’s viewpoint and we are constantly subjected to either American phrases or comments about American phrases. These tics invade the film like an unwanted parasite and force us into unnecessary postmodernism. A more secure writer would simply have concentrated on letting the story tell itself without trying to control its connotations.

In the everyday, strange events occur, unlikely situations transpire and nothing is predictable. If we have learnt anything as we have evolved it is that life is never simple. Using this as a guide, you could say the same about the strange quirks of The Guard. In isolation, this is true but when you have so many illogical set-pieces the story starts to look rather shoddy.

Garda Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Glesson) And Gabriela McBride (Katarina Cas)  In The Guard

In The Guard we have the villains constantly meeting in the strangest of places, a popular diving spot, an aquarium, and a windswept hill in the middle of nowhere all the while they self-knowingly chat about their predicament and question the meaning of their lives. We have the people of Connemara – who more closely resemble the taciturn types out of a western – unwilling to talk to or help Everett with a murder inquiry.

‘He also happens to be in the right spot at the right time, irrespective of how early or late it is.’

We have Everrett, a highly dedicated and intelligent FBI agent who would have access to a mine of information about Ireland, not realising that there are Irish-speaking areas in Ireland. There is the odd, incongruent deus ex machina of the improbably wise little boy who seems to spend all of his time riding an old, girl’s bike. He also happens to be in the right spot at the right time, irrespective of how early or late it is.

All told, The Guard is a highly entertaining and funny film. With someone to assist John Michael McDonagh with the writing and a better casting of some of the minor characters, the movie could have been truly special. As it is, it must be considered as one to watch but not unmissable.


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2 Responses to The Guard Film Review: An Enjoyable But Mistake-Strewn Movie

  1. Dream says:

    I think you missed the real point of this movie, but then i don’t blame you. I don’t mean to be patronising but I think that it must be hard to understand this story and all of its jokes if you are not Irish, or if you are not familiar with Irish humour and writing.

    In my opinion, this is an amazing film and i think that McDonagh did an excellent job. Many of the faults you have with the film were not dreamt up in McD’s mind, but are actually true. You would be surprised how many people don’t know that Irish/Gaeilge is a language as it is very much a dying one. Having been to Conemara several times i can tell you that there would be few places for villains to chill out and it is in fact as barren as it appears in the movie.

    As for the people of the West of Ireland, having relatives from that side of the country who speak fluent Irish, i would not put it past them to answer the door to a cop, black or white, like that. People of the west aren’t very impressed by authority stepping in on the area, considering they seem to have been in control of it for quite some time without help. As for wise little boys, i have met one boy who i could swear that character was based on. I think that Irish children can be very different from other nationalities’.

    Don’t think to badly of us, as Boyle put it in the movie, we don’t mean any harm but as a rule, Irish people are awfully racist, even to our own (as conveyed with the whole Dubliners thing in the movie). To understand the deeper, (and frankly brilliant) messages of this film, i think that you really need to grasp that racism and move on past it. But maybe it’s just something that only the Irish and British (because our humour is quite similar and they seem to love it) can know.

    I don’t think i made any sense, but oh well. 🙂

  2. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment. We greatly appreciate the effort you put into writing this and it was good to hear another point of view.

    P.S. We are Irish. One of us was educated in Galway too. 🙂

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