Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Review: "The Guard"
Imagine the worst policeman in Ireland. Or maybe he's the best. As played by Brendan Gleeson in "The Guard," he probably doesn't care one way or the other. In the course of this black comedy by writer/director John Michael McDonagh, he becomes both.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle patrols a sparsely populated section of the Irish coast. He's got enough seniority that he feels comfortable talking back freely to his superiors in the Garda (as the Irish police are known), but has few real responsibilities.
When a body turns up in his jurisdiction shot through the head, Boyle's first question is if there's any money in the house. This is not a query about motivation for the crime, but pocketing the cash. Boyle is not the sort to engage in shakedowns or stealing from honest citizens, but loose currency from a crime scene is something he sees as his due.
Gleeson inhabits this foul-mouthed, often depraved, occasionally noble creature with conviction and an impish, sly humor. Boyle is the kind of man who enjoys making outrageously idiotic and/or offensive statements to others with a perfectly straight face, just to see if they're smart enough to see through his joke.
A primary target is Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), an FBI agent sent from America to chase a major drug smuggling ring bringing $500 million in cocaine into Ireland. Boyle interrupts the FBI man's presentation, makes racially charged statements, gets everyone in a furious huff, and then drops a clue that breaks the case open.
That's Boyle's M.O.: He'll engage in some serious police investigation, but only if it humors him.
Boyle and Everett end up becoming partners of a sort, or at least they do after Boyle's actual partner (played by Rory Keenan), turns up missing after just a few days on the job. Boyle could care less, but the partner's young wife plucks some strings of sympathy within him.
Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot play the smugglers, who seem as bored plying their trade as Boyle is at police work. One complains about the low quality of people they meet in their line of work, and it's pointed out to him that they are, after all, criminals in the narcotics market.
Boyle has a mother (Fionnula Flanagan) who's only got a short time to live, and he has installed her in a bucolic facility for dying oldsters (perhaps this is where all that crime scene money is going). Boyle engages in the same sort of teasing one-upmanship with his ma as he does with everyone else, but it's got a tender, well-worn affection to it. Watching their scenes together, we know he took after her rather than his dad.
I'm not really quite sure what to make of "The Guard." In terms of tone, it reminded me of another Gleeson film, "In Bruges," made by John Michael McDonagh's brother Martin. It's the sort of movie that makes you smile and squirm, often within the confines of the same scene.
It's certainly engaging, though many times I felt the film's stylistic choices overwhelmed its sense of itself.
Take one scene where Boyle has shot another character, obviously fatally. The dying man laments the many things in life he will never get to do. Boyle cheekily asks him if everything is going dim. The bleeding fellow angrily demands that he not be mocked in his final minutes. Boyle is not inclined to oblige.
Is this moment supposed to be funny? Horrifying? Ironic? I'm not sure the movie knows itself enough to answer.
2.5 stars out of four