The Guard: A Sharp Script Means The Guard Isn’t a Letdown

If a movie is masterfully made in every way, but it has merely an average script, you’re never going to have a very good movie. If a movie is somewhat amateurishly made, but it has a very good script, you’re going to have a memorably good movie. The Guard is John Michael McDonagh’s directing debut, and some of his choices are questionable. However, the script is witty with loads of memorable quotes, strong performances, and a good amount of suspense, so the final product is quite fun.

Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) works a murder case in his small Irish town. There are hints that it may have been cult-related, possibly gang-related. When FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) comes from America to town, clearly the case isn’t what it appears. Three drug runners (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot) are planning a massive operation nearby, and it’s up to Boyle and Everett to crack the case. One problem: Everett is a by-the-books law enforcement official, whereas Boyle is foulmouthed, racist, perpetually drunk, and planning days off to spend time with whores. Yet he has one thing the rest of the police force in this town doesn’t: honesty. As others are getting bought off, Boyle’s unconventional means might be the only means available to bring them down.

As a first-time director, McDonagh has yet to prove that he is as strong with a camera as he is at writing a page. It’s not nearly as impressive as McDonagh’s brother Martin’s feature debut, In Bruges. Much of the film looks somewhere between drab and ugly, and many of the camera placements I found to be off-putting. Simple things like choosing when to have a close-up or when to have a wide shot seemed to have been decided haphazardly. To some degree, it works, because McDonagh wants the town to look unimpressive and monotonous, but there are ways of achieving that without the film looking like this– Winter’s Bone from last year is a great example of how a strong filmmaker can make ugliness look beautiful.

Yet like his brother, here a script full of shocking humor, plentiful profanity, and strange heart makes up for any of McDonagh’s deficiencies. You write a good script and hire good actors, and you could have the camera upside down for all I care (note to directors: don’t film the movie upside down). Cheadle has the least flashy of the roles but does his usual solid work and Gleeson gets to carry the film with his Falstaffian belly jutting out and a constant look on his face that says “I’m better than you.” Their chemistry together is great, the type that would’ve been ruined in a Hollywood buddy movie with an inferior script. Special mention must be given to Strong, who plays the smartest and most self-aware drug running crony in film history, because I laughed at his mere appearance every time his character arrived– when this effect is achieved, it means some magic has clicked between the actor and the script. These gentlemen must have drooled when they read these scripts at home and begged their agents to get them involved– it’s a great little dark indie comedy, not memorably shot, but memorably written. The Guard protects us from the witless “comedies” of summer.

~ by russellhainline on September 16, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Guard: A Sharp Script Means The Guard Isn’t a Letdown”

  1. Wow I love your film reviews. I agree – hilarious script!
    “How many times have you been shot?”
    “Three times”
    Three times?! You must be getting used to it then”

    Also I loved that the drug dealers were reading Schopenhauer in the car…made me chuckle as a Philosophy student!

  2. […] ACTOR: 10. Tom Hardy, Warrior 9. Brendan Gleeson, The Guard 8. George Clooney, The Descendants 7. Joel Edgerton, Warrior 6. Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life 5. John […]

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