Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Guard is a distinctly Irish comedy.
Brendan Gleeson is a popular man in Ireland and his turn as the profanity-spouting, Guinness-swilling, whore-purchasing Sergeant Gerry Boyle has drummed up plenty of publicity amongst his native audience. In fact, the film has already made it into the UK box office’s top 10, despite not yet being released this side of the Irish Sea. The character is essentially a raunchier version of Gene Hunt, or a combination of Regan and Carter from The Sweeney with extra corruption thrown into the mix.
When a few bodies start appearing in a small town in West-Ireland, much to his disgruntlement Boyle finds himself paired with FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) who is straighter than a ruler and subsequently the antithesis of Boyle. They’re hunting for a gang of drug dealers waiting on the delivery of a large shipment (rumour has it worth half a billion dollars), but will they be able to put aside their differences and work effectively as a team? The plot evolves as a Western: Gleeson and Cheadle are pitted against corrupt figures of law, stereotypical bad guys and double-crossing allies; it leads to the predictable shootout at the end, all accompanied by a score certainly reminiscent of the Old West. Due to the way it modernises its setting and themes, the term neo-Western would be appropriate if you wanted to put a label on this film’s genre.
Produced on a modest budget of a reported $6 million, some slick dialogue makes this a watchable affair that punches a little above its means. Unfortunately, The Guard falls short of its pre-release hype. The film’s trailer was very promising – some decent music, an interesting looking lead duo and most importantly, a few laughs. However, it’s always a disappointing moment when you realise that a film’s trailer is not just a preview of the good material contained within, rather it is the majority of that material – that’s the problem here. I counted two moments that made me properly chuckle during the film that hadn’t been spoiled by the trailer. It’s a sad state of affairs when this happens – you find yourself deflating halfway through the experience, once you realise that the film peaked before you even got into the cinema.
Aside from the dissatisfying amount of laughs, there are also a few other issues within The Guard. Some of the cinematography leaves a little to be desired, in particular one crude and slightly nauseating 360-pan. The narrative doesn’t shine either; it’s lacking fluidity and clarity. Clearly I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but don’t get your hopes up, it’s a thoroughly disappointing mess of a conclusion, attempting to be enigmatic but instead being unconvincing and a little inane. There’s also a noticeable lack of chemistry between Gleeson and Cheadle, but I do believe it’s a double act that could have worked given the right direction.
I really wanted to like The Guard, but it fell short of my expectations. I did enjoy the 90 minutes, largely due to Gleeson leading the line with his terrific screen presence, but overall I was largely underwhelmed. Sitting near me in the screening I attended was an Irish girl, after the film I canvassed her opinion and she seemed mostly positive, though she felt that there were a number of jokes that wouldn’t be fully appreciated by a non-Irish audience. She could well be right, that might go some way to explaining why the film felt a bit flat to me. It’s possible that, if the trailer for The Guard got your hopes up, this review might bring them crashing down. That could be this film’s saving grace – my advice is to keep those expectations low and avoid potential disappointment.