The Establishing Shot: The Guard A Review

Saturday, August 20, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

The GuardAs a film fan I spend a lot of my time in the dark, waiting and hoping for those rare outstanding films that come along once in awhile. A film that is so fresh, original and sharp that it is achingly cool while demonstrating an uncanny understanding of the film medium and its audience’s needs.

The Guard is such a film. I cannot recommend this flawless gem highly enough. Before I get into my thoughts of The Guard I would like to start with 3 quotes from other films and characters that made an impact on me at some time or other and I couldn’t help drawing parallels between those characters and Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of The Guard.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Mr. Blonde: Boy that was really exciting. I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan aren't ya …

Tombstone (1993)
Doc Holliday: My hypocrisy goes only so far.

Charley Varrick (1973)
Molly: [reads Charley's business card] Charley Varrick, last of the independents. I like that. Has a ring of finality.

No one sets out to make a bad, OK well almost, no one sets out to make a bad film but Cinema is littered with the many wannabe Crime tales that purport to be different, fun and exciting whilst rolling out all the usual clichés and characters from other films (with well tread dialogue). The Guard eschews all of that and while it may have some elements in common with great films of the 70s it never feels nothing less than smart, original and fresh.

The Guard
An unorthodox Irish policeman with a confrontational personality is teamed up with an uptight FBI agent to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring.

Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a small-town cop with a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humour, a dying mother, a fondness for prostitutes, and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international cocaine-smuggling ring that has brought FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to his door. However, despite the fact that Boyle seems more interested in mocking and undermining Everett than in actively working to solve the case, he finds that circumstances keep pulling him back into the thick of it.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (Ned Kelly) and starring Brendan Gleeson (the Harry Potter series, In Bruges) and Don Cheadle (Oceans films, Hotel Rwanda) as the ill-matched pair of lawmen, The Guard also stars Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass), Liam Cunningham (Hunger, The Wind That Shakes The Barley), Fionnuala Flanagan (The Invention of Lying), David Wilmot (The Tudors), Rory Keenan (Zonad), Pat Shortt (Garage) and newcomer Katarina Cas.
To be honest I had seen some clips from The Guard which were really quite funny and interested me enough to see the film. But then again we have come to accept that clips and trailers these days show the best bits of films and leave nothing but a naked emperor for us to see on screen, and in all honesty I didn’t think the entire film could maintain same high level of entertainment throughout. I was very wrong. But this brings me to a quandary the clips are really good - but I think give away too much of the story. So watch them at your own peril.

As with most of the great films the story is fairly simple but the magic is how it rolls out and the characters that inhabit the small Irish Sea side town universe it creates.

I don’t know what to praise about The Guard most, the deceptively simple storyline that cracks with genius dialogue as it rolls out a colourful tale of an Irish seaside village policeman- The Guard, out of step , marching to the beat of his own drum and unwilling to yield to life’s pressures or anyone else’s. Sublimely played by Brendan Gleeson in a role that seems to be tailor made for him. He plays the role somewhere between touching and the most hilariously un PC personality since Archie Bunker, who is still very, very funny by the way.

The innumerable engaging characters that make up the local population, I.R.A. representatives, the big city drug smugglers (someone please write Mark Strong a decent leading man role already) - that may use the local port to transport their contraband. Or the fish out of water FBI agent Don Cheadle trying to track down the drug traffickers, whilst culture clashing with Brendan Gleeson’s Guard. Each with their own compelling and unashamedly world view defined personalities.

The camera work that lifts the small town locations and scene chapters to art house level, it does help that the cracking dialogue and top notch acting are thrown into the mix as well.

Just a few posts ago I was complaining/pointing out that Pedro Almodóvar captures the uniqueness and beauty of Spanish culture with The Skin I Live in and I queried why more filmmakers couldn't do the same?

Well that is exactly what John Michael McDonagh does for rural Ireland and Irish culture whilst wryly entertaining.

I should also mention the carefully devised soundtrack by American alternative country band, Calexico which is heavily influenced by Ennio Morricone’s western stylings bring a touch of irony while giving The Guard an air of maverick lone lawman in the wild west.

Back to those quotes and how they relate to Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of The Guard:

Charley Varrick, last of the independents.
This is a quote that is actually referenced by The Guard during the film. It is from a great 1973 Don Siegel film called Charley Varrick. Charley Varrick was a bank robber, who robs a bank only to find out the surprisingly large amount of cash his team made away with belongs to the mob. The rest of the film is about him trying to stay ahead of the both the law and the mob out for his blood as the stakes are raised. As with Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of Sergeant Gerry Boyle the genius of Charley Varrick is Walter Matthau’s dry deadpan delivery of the very smart Charley Varrick. A man with great mental agility and always has the right verbal riposte or comeback and is not scared to use it.

I managed to ask Director John Michael McDonagh if the Charley Varrick reference and similarities was something Gleeson came up with or if it came from himself.

John Michael McDonagh
told me:
Yea, - the last of the independents - was definitely a reference to Charley Varrick. I like those Don Siegel films of the early 70s. And I like Walter Matthau, he was a great actor and he didn’t have a leading mans face; he was a character actor that was elevated to being a star. Charley Varrick and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three being two of favourite movies from that era. So yes I’m referencing those sorts of films.

I am a big fan of American cinema from the late 60s and early 70s. It didn’t matter if they were doing a romantic comedy like the The Heartbreak Kid or a thriller there was always a sort of melancholic undertow to everything because, I guess there was some disillusion with Nixon regime at the time. I wanted The Guard to be a laugh out loud comedy but I wanted this melancholy vibe going on at the same time, so yea that was a big inspiration.
Mr. Blonde:
Boy that was really exciting. I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan aren't ya …” this quote encapsulated Gleeson’s character and the similarities to other great characters including Charley Varrick. If you have seen Reservoir Dogs you know that Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is talking to Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White and that Mr. White is not Lee Marvin he is a different and original character, but embodies the spirit of Mr. Blonde’s perception of the two. Much like Brendan Gleeson’s The Guard captures the spirit of a genius like character who is his own person.

Doc Holliday: My hypocrisy goes only so far.
Tombstone is one of my favourite films of all time with multiple dichotomous characters but none as self assured and cool as Doc Holliday played by Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday has to be one of the greatest cowboy characters in film history. My hypocrisy goes only so far. Means that despite the murky world he lives in and despite his seemingly selfish and confrontational behaviour/ motivations Doc Holliday has a very clear moral code and much like The Guard and at the drop of of a hat is willing to take care of business at any cost.

The Guard is one of this year's most original and fun films and I urge you to see this gem as soon as possible.

The Guard is on general release from yesterday, Fri 19 August, 2011

The Guard

The Guard
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh (screenplay)
Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong