Sunday, 25 September 2011

“I really can’t tell if you’re really mother fucking dumb or really mother fucking smart”

The Guard: directed by written John Michael McDonagh
In a way, The Guard premise defies logic a bit. The eponymous guard of the title, Brendan Gleeson’s Boyle is a prototypical Irishman with the prototypical Irish brogue who for reasons that are not quite clear goes against the odds to try to take down a gang of drug smugglers. Perhaps, I’m grandstanding. It’s not specifically that the premise defies logic, it’s just that McDonagh's film is a bit too much of a reflection of its protagonist – equally ridiculous and vaguely odious as it is insightful and precise so that you wonder which is which, since it’s not the obvious thing to imagine that the two portions are one in the same.
Even though it depends on its title character, it’s fish-out-of-water Wendell played by Don Cheadle who contributes a significant amount to the investigation. The basic foundation is that a body turns up in Boyle’s district which happens to have ties to aforementioned drug ring and American Wendell heads up to Ireland to do his bit for the investigation. It’s happenstance that Gerry already knows that one of the suspects they’re looking for is already dead, and the thing about happenstance is that cinematically it often comes off looking like an easy way out. Nonetheless, with this turn of events Gerry and Wendell become allies briefly, even though the film never descends into a buddy film. The fish-out-of-water arc is more of a supplemental plotline than a major one, which is a somewhat ironic character study on Gerry.
The film’s finest asset is it unembellished nature. True, it’s still very “movie-like”, what with the constant witticisms being put forth by the characters. And, I cringe at calling it gritty simply for the fact that it use swear words to qualify its points. Instead, I’d say that the film wins points because even in the “movie” world it’s more than willing to be grotesque to make its points. Gleeson is the most obvious candidate giving a fearless performance that could very well have drifted into slapstick of the most candid forms but which manages to retain a strident amount of sincerity so that silly, if innocuous actions manage to take on a vague wave of sorrow that’s much appreciation. In keeping with its character-study form Gerry has a lonely life, and what seems to be troubled relationship with his mother. And, in a scene that shouldn’t land as well as it does he takes her to a concert where with a mere three sentences we’re given insight – if briefly – into a whole other facet of our main character. A few moments later when she leaves the films he says, “She was my mother,” a throwaway line that has a startling profundity.

Cheadle isn’t given as much to do because even if McDonagh flirts with the idea of making this a dual lead, it’s not his film. But, he’s always been a ready and able actor and he plays the pitiable part of the straight-man with a self awareness which does him well. McDonagh’s purpose for him ends up becoming something of a surrogate for the audience who is as confused, disgusted and arrested by what’s going on around us. And, it’s a bit of a flaw in the structure that Cheadle takes so long to show up. It’s often through his wan reaction shots that we know how to respond. The final shot of the film is a penetration glance from him, and it’s astonishing just how much he manages to establish with it which again raises the question as to why – despite the actual screenplay being quite effective – McDonagh couldn’t have used his supporting cast with more alacrity.
He gives us shades of the oddities who make up Gerry’s Irish world and the cast is especially game – a rookie policeman and his wife, an unbelievably precocious boy, various suspects all manage to give their characters a lived in feeling that manage to preserve its realness in the face of the unreal. Of the lot I have to single out Mark Strong specifically, as one of the criminal who in a few scenes delivers a fully formed, dynamic character that’s brutal, funny and charismatic all at once. He’s lucky in that McDonagh’s biggest asset is his ear for dialogue (at its best, caustic brilliance) but he takes it up a notch by being that good. And, there’s a sense, that the movie could have been that better if McDonagh had let a more skilled director handle the heavy lifting. As result, we end up with a film that’s good, occasionally great, but fails to retain that wallop that the screenplay continuously teases us with. Like its protagonist we’re unsure if we’re to take it sincerely or ironically. Is it ridiculous, or just ridiculously smart? In the long run, I suppose it doesn’t really matter because it’s a more than effective ride.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I saw the trailer for this and it just felt old fashioned to me. I didn't feel like I was going to be able to get into this at all and if Cheadle takes so long to show up that's another minus.