Monday, 12 September 2011

Film Review: The Guard

Venal, partial to recreational drug use and the occasional hooker or two, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) isn't exactly what you'd call a conventional cop. When a seemingly random homicide is linked to a major drug deal going down in Boyle's sleepy little jurisdiction, FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) descends on the province hoping to catch the smugglers.

The Guard sets its tone early. After a senseless car crash, Sergeant Boyle walks over to the hulking wreck and frisks the dead bodies for drugs. Drugs he proceeds to pocket for his personal use. When he struggles to find the correct terminology for a wheelchair-bound person and his colleague tells him they're called paraplegics, Boyle candidly agrees by uttering "Spastic, yeah" without a second thought. Likewise, he'll quite happily ask if black FBI agent, Everett, grew up in the projects. Where the rest of the cast wince at his political incorrectness, Boyle seems incredulous to the offence he apparently causes, innocently explaining that "I'm Irish sir. Racism is a part of me culture". However, Boyle is not a bigoted idiot; he's much more complex than that. The brilliance of Gleeson's Boyle is that the rest of the characters never quite know what to make of him. As Everett succinctly puts it "I can't tell if you're really motherfucking dumb, or really motherfucking smart". His antagonism toward Everett derives from a desire merely to push people's buttons, bemused by the absurdity of how seriously everyone else takes boring, trivial little things. Boyle is a contrarian for the sake of it, displaying a certain guile as he makes his own fun in what appears to be a method to his ignorance. As such, watching Gleeson and Cheadle spa is a delight as the two form an unusual and begrudging friendship. Throw in a philosophical drug smuggling trio who drive around the Irish countryside quoting Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell in what are shades of Tarantino and you're definitely onto a winner here.

Writer and director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh, who wrote and directed In Bruges where Brendan Gleeson was used to similarly fantastic effect. Once again Gleeson is the engine driving proceedings, a wonderful character who puts a highly unconventional spin on a conventional buddy mismatch and cop formula. Cheadle's by-the-book Agent Everett is the perfect foil to Boyle who's incredulous to his antics, their relationship providing the main source of comic entertainment. While you do wish that such a big name would have a few more witty lines in him, the gravitas Cheadle brings to the film more than compensates. The hyper-learned criminals lead by Liam Cunningham who the duo seek to apprehend are equally enjoyable, Mark Strong and David Wilmot making the most of their secondary villainous roles. As if to reinforce the idea that no one is sacred, even the Irish are portrayed in their stereotype as 'stupid', with Strong there as an Englishman used to highlight their imbecilely.

The Guard is sort of like the Irish version of Hot Fuzz, sporting the same dark comic tone of In Bruges. Indeed, the Irish brand of humour is particularly unique, a deliverance of dead pan flippancy with a twinkle in the eye which cares not who it offends. Only the ever effusive charm of the Irish could get away with such barbed and politically incorrect humour. The dialogue is delightfully capricious, sharp in a rata-tat-tat manner and eminently quotable. If you get it, The Guard is fucking funny. If not, the PC brigade will probably have a fit. This is what Hot Fuzz should have been.