Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, Dominique McElligott, Sarah Greene, Katarina Cas, Pat Shortt, Darren Healy, Laurence Kinlan, Gary Lydon
Written by: John Michael McDonagh
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some violence, drug material and sexual content
Running Time: 96
Date: 01/20/2011

The Guard (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Plight 'n' Irish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in the mid-1990s, there came an onslaught of coy crime films, all inspired by Pulp Fiction, though few of them were any good and none of them measured up to the original. Maybe it's because a generation has gone by, but now there appears to be a resurgence of these types of films, mostly from the UK and Australia. King among them was Martin McDonagh's In Bruges (2008), and now McDonagh's older brother John Michael McDonagh has done him one better with the awesome new The Guard.

First let me say that, in his lead role, Brendan Gleeson has never been better, and that includes his great performance in John Boorman's The General (1998). He plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a "guard" or cop in a rural part of Galway. The movie opens thunderously as a carload of drunk punks speeds down a roadway. They pass Gerry and crash offscreen. Gerry investigates wreckage, finds some acid tabs, drops one, and remarks that it's a gorgeous day. The next day, he investigates a murder and can't resist joking around with a new recruit, fresh on the job. He also takes time off to care for his sick mum (Fionnula Flanagan).

Thus goes life in Galway, until an American FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), comes to town, looking to catch a gang of drug smugglers. Most of the movie's thrust comes from the friction between Gerry and Wendell. Gerry doesn't like having the Americans taking over his town, and assuming he's a hayseed, but he also doesn't quite let on how smart he really is. Wendell says, "I can't tell if you're really motherfucking smart, or really motherfucking dumb." In one scene, Gerry actually takes his day off in the middle of the investigation, because "one day won't make a difference." He spends it in the company of two prostitutes, of course, and returns to the job spent, but refreshed.

Even the drug smugglers (Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot) wax philosophical when they're waiting for drops or shipments or whatnot. One of the best scenes has the latter, a straggly-haired sociopath (or is it psychopath? He can't remember the difference) getting the drop on Gerry in his home. Gerry's method of getting out of that fix is the type of thing that would have Quentin Tarantino laughing and applauding.

Better still, McDonagh has hired former Kubrick cinematographer Larry Smith, and the film looks amazing, using mostly wide shots with gorgeous, sometimes juxtaposed compositions; the production designer was John Paul Kelly (Bloody Sunday, Venus, Tristram Shandy, etc.). It may recall dozens of crime and cop movies, as well as dozens of mismatched-partner movies, but make no mistake: those types of things have rarely been done as well as The Guard.

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