Originally Reviewed – 8/20/2011
Before starting my review of the latest indie crime comedy starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle, let me share the trailer of the film with you. Seriously, stop reading now and give the link a click. No worries…I’ll wait!
So, what was your first impression? Looks pretty funny in a dark comedy sort of way, doesn’t it. The movie poster outside the theater labeled the film as a “Raucous Comedy”, reviews have been unilaterally positive and, despite the rough nature of the humor, the trailer actually had me laughing. To me, the movie looked like a mix of Lethal Weapon meets In Bruges with a heavy focus on the Irish countryside. In fact, the trailer looked so much like that excellent movie, I firstly thought it might have been done by that film’s director, Martin McDonagh. Turns out I was half right as The Guard was penned and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of the famed Irish playwright. Sad thing is, John Michael doesn’t have nearly the chops of his brother and while the film has a strong cast, some decent writing and more than a couple of cringe inducing laughs, the experience as a whole falls apart due to some poor direction and character development, forcing me to label this as a minor disappointment.
The Guard tells the story of Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson), a whore mongering, hard drinking Irish cop who, with the unlikely assistance of FBI agent Wendell Everest, is on the hunt for a trio of drug runners in the countryside of Ireland. The high points of the film live with these baddies as they commit murders while waxing philosophical about the nature of their crimes, creating some humorous juxtapositions in their drug dealing affairs. Unfortunately, the team we’re there to see, namely Cheadle and Gleeson never seem to gel as buddies, important in a film that boils down to a buddy cop movie. While both actors deliver their clever lines with the expected vigor and flair, the combination of the two never mixes. The witty repartee is expected to propel the film but that forward momentum ends up never happening, creating a film that’s like a soda without fizz. That being said, high marks have to be given to Fionnula Flanagan who plays Gleeson’s cancer ridden mother, easily my favorite character in the film. In a role that could have been clichéd and overdramatic, she plays the sweetly foul mouthed role with a serene acceptance of her condition, taking every opportunity to sneak a drink with her son, laugh and take in life the way it’s meant to be taken. My only issue is that this narrative thread is that is has no real place in the film, other than establishing the Gleeson character as a nice Irish boy beneath the flawed exterior, creating moments that are quite wonderful but completely out of place.
That’s not to say The Guard doesn’t have its moments. The movie does provide a decent amount of laughs, all of which are pointed, irreverent and quite funny. The sad thing is, I just ruined most of those laughs in the trailer you just saw. The rest of the movie tickles the funny bone in spurts but the experience as a whole just has a flat monotone that covers the funny bits in a blanket of blah. The periphery characters, aside from the mother, are uninspired, the story has a predictable conclusion and the action, dependant on the tension of two friends going up against all odds, fails to inspire or excite. All in all, The Guard, while an acceptable first try, suffers from having the wrong McDonagh directing. The brilliance of Martin is his uncanny ability to create likable yet twisted characters, a balancing act that’s only possible with thoughtful writing and careful direction. The Guard has neither and despite a fine attempt from the principals involved, The Guard never lives up to the promise in the trailer or the lineage of his brother. Here’s hoping that the next McDonagh movie has the right one at the helm.
Score – 60%