The Guard: A movie gem

A coastal Irish village sets the scene for this well-written,well-acted, well-intentioned drama

The Guard 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Guard 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Guard Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh.Hebrew title: Shomer Hok Running time: 96 minutes.In English, with Hebrew titles.
So many films are predictable and easy to categorize that when a gem like The Guard comes along, it’s a joy. It stars Brendan Gleeson, a distinguished Irish character actor with many wonderful roles to his credit, as a churlish cop in a coastal Irish village. Although Gleeson may have done great work in any number of movies – among them In Bruges, The General and the Harry Potter movies, where he plays Mad- Eye Moody – this is the role that ought to win him an Oscar or, at the very least, an Oscar nomination.
The Guard (Irish slang for cop is “guarda”) depends on the audience pulling for a character who is quite nasty and confrontational, yet Gleeson wins the audience over. At the end of the screening when I saw this at the Haifa Film Festival last month, the audience applauded – a rare event at a film festival, where viewers have high standards and tend to be quite jaded. Gleeson, pasty faced and heavyset, holds the screen brilliantly throughout in an understated way. If there is anything that will lose him the Oscar, it’s the fact that he – and the film – are often quite funny. Although there is a saying in Hollywood, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” Oscar voters tend to reward the tragic over the comic, no matter how hard it actually is to get laughs.
The film is the directorial debut of John Michael McDonagh, who wrote the screenplay for the acclaimed gangster film Ned Kelly. The Guard takes stock situations and turns them upside down, so that almost no scene throughout the course of the film plays out exactly as you would expect it to.
Gleeson plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a lazy, mildly corrupt cop in a small village who has to show the ropes to McBride (Rory Keenan), a straight-arrow recruit from Dublin. Off the job, Boyle doesn’t do much but drink, watch TV, play darts, see prostitutes who dress like cops for him, and visit his mother (Fionnula Flanagan), a classy-looking woman who is dying from cancer and isn’t afraid of speaking her mind on any subject.
But sleepy coastal villages aren’t as sleepy these days as they once were, and it turns out that a drug cartel is shipping off its goods in the area. When an FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), is dispatched to catch the drug dealers, Boyle resists working with him at first. Boyle tries to alienate Everett with casually racist remarks (Cheadle is African-American and starred in Hotel Rwanda, Boogie Nights and Crash) but finds that the Ivy League-educated yuppie can’t be manipulated as easily as he expects. “I’m Irish, sir. Racism is part of me culture,” Boyle tells the exasperated but undaunted Everett.
Eventually, the two join forces to try to bring down the cartel, as well as some of Boyle’s malevolently corrupt colleagues. However, the film handles the crime caper/thriller part of the film as well as it does everything else. Although the villains, who discuss Chet Baker and Bertrand Russell, seem to have stepped out of a Quentin Tarantino film, they also manage to charm as they bicker, smuggle and kill.
Mark Strong, an up-and-coming British actor who can currently be seen in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and had featured roles in Sherlock Holmes and Body of Lies, plays the most menacing of the trio. While Strong is especially good, all the actors in this ensemble cast make an impression.
There are a couple of scenes where characters speak Gaelic that are subtitled, but it isn’t always easy to understand the thick Irish accents even when people speak English, so if you can read the Hebrew titles, that will help.
Long after the gunplay is finished, you will remember Gleeson as Boyle. Almost every office staff has someone a bit like him – a cranky guy who often turns out to know more than anyone else, a man who is so alone he is pitiful yet who pushes others away at every turn. After you see this, you may well look at this guy a little differently the next time you get into an argument with him. In any case, this film will stay in your mind long after you see it.