Well made, film struggles under limitation of genre.
Here comes another movie you’ve never seen before. Surprisingly, it’s an Irish movie, made in Ireland, by Irish first-time director, about Irish people in Irish countryside trying to smuggle American drugs. Its a black comedy.
Anyone might argue that black comedy is not the best choice for a movie. Specifically due to the fact you always find yourself laughing on the stuff you then say “man, this is so wrong!” about. And yet this film manages to surpass the usual limitation of the genre. The same goes to the infamous “In Bruges“, made actually by the brother of the director of “The Guard”.
What do you know about Irish countryside? Essentially nothing in particular. Except there’s nothing to know about it anyway. Cold weather, endless green vastness. Grey beaches with random seagulls. And people of Gaelic heritage, who hate strangers and British. In this vastness of land lives our “hero” – Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson). He is local police officer, or Garda – like Irish call them. He is supposed to “guard the piece of Ireland” and he proudly does so by stealing (for personal usage) drugs from dead DUI victims, drinking liquor in local hole of a pub while on duty, having a day off in the company of two beautiful “escort” girls, and dealing stolen guns to IRA. He doesn’t give a crap about anything.
Well, unfortunately, his routine gets disturbed when a new “green” cop is sent to be his partner – probably the worst thing Gerry could have imagined. Next thing the dead body, left from potential religious murder is found and FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) is knocking on the door informing that a band of Irish drug dealers are trying to set up a drop off in the neighborhood and requesting full cooperation. And suddenly the fact that Boyle doesn’t give a crap about anything becomes really handy.
Brendan Gleeson is an amazing actor. He is always fun to watch. But here he managed to overcome himself and his abilities. This role is made for him, and he is made for this role. I can not imagine any less likable hero that possesses the charm and charisma that drives the movie. His remarks, his gestures are truly genuine and there’s no doubt about any scene he is in.
Don Cheadle looks really nice in this movie. I am not his big fan, but I have to admit, he is really good in this one. He wants to do his job. He believes in his job. And he trusts his instincts that he can get to the end of the problem. He is direct opposite of Boyle.
There’s a really colorful set of supporting cast which must be given due respect. Drug dealers are surprisingly charismatic and philosophical (Mark Strong is one of them, and I’m not surprised at all), townies are remarkably arrogant and foul-mouthed, rest of Garda are distant and inappropriate, escort girls are funny and appalling. Hell, there’s even an ineffective and silly IRA “operative”.
The direction might seem a little slow and boring at times. But it sets a beautiful bleak tone to the whole picture. John Michael McDonagh delivers an impressive representation of the surroundings, emotions and even very profound action sequences. Very solid debut. I will be looking forward to seeing his next movie.
The only problem the film has is the limitation of the genre. You can’t be serious with black comedies. And whether you try to send a message or not, black comedy is a comedy in the end. So you either go that way or you will end up with tragicomedy. “The Guard” manages to stay in between. It is a beautiful approach, but it gave me a bit dissatisfaction of not being 100% comedy or 100% tragicomedy.