The Guard

Well, that’s pretty f*ckin’ rude.

guardThe Guard is the newest film by Irish director John Michael McDonagh, brother of Malcolm McDonagh (director of In Bruges).  It’s a crime comedy in the vein of “Like Guy Ritchie, but…”, though the “but” is in this case indicative of the fact that it isn’t much like a Guy Ritchie film at all.  It has Mark Strong, as did Ritchie’s RocknRolla, but aside from that, the well-timed black humor, and the fact that there are nearly zero prominent female characters, it’s McDonagh’s creature through and through.

The film is carried by the lovable Brendan Gleeson (who may be on his way to becoming the Irish John Candy).  Gleeson plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox member of the “garda” (Irish cops in Gaelic-speaking Galway).  He’s not a bad person, he just doesn’t take his job seriously.  When he’s not taking hits of acid from drug-dealers’ corpses and keeping them for himself, Boyle spends time with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan) at a retirement home.  In these scenes, which are equal parts madcap and surprisingly tender, we see where Boyle gets some of his traits (his language, for one).  When Boyle’s new partner (in whom he has no interest) is whacked for almost no reason by a trio of infamous drug-runners (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot), Boyle’s unit is visited by FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, the one Yank in the film).  Through one thing and another, Boyle and Everett are partnered up in order to solve a series of crimes involving these villains.  The scenes between Gleeson and Cheadle feature the classic Odd Couple character development, but McDonagh allows the characters to retain multiple lines of tension with one another and also to spend time by themselves.  From their second scene onward, we can tell they sort of like each other, but have fundamental issues with the other – Everett’s issues with Boyle’s erratic on-the-job behavior and his sheer laziness, and Boyle’s seemingly innocent ignorance about black people, the FBI, and pretty much anything but Galway.  The latter leads to some wonderful scenes between the two, during which we hope with all our hearts that Boyle won’t say something that completely ruins the already strained friendship.  (“I thought black people couldn’t ski.  Or is that swimming?”)  Cheadle’s reactions to Boyle’s comments are priceless, both in facial expression and dialogue.

Cunningham, Strong and Wilmot play the villains as people who know they’re the bad guys in a movie.  They stand perfectly still in immaculately-framed shots of beautiful scenery and talk about being bad.  Strong, also a fish out of water character, plays the film’s sole Englishman, and behaves so harshly that his partners must warn other characters, “Eh, he’s English.”  Cunningham plays the de facto boss of the three, and comes close to the fourth wall a few times.  Wilmot gets a great one-on-one scene with Gleeson, during which McDonagh employs the Fallacy of the Talking Killer (the old movie ploy in which the bad guy, about to kill the hero and need only pull the trigger, foolishly explains all of his plans, giving the hero time to plan and execute an escape).

EDIT (2014): I wasn’t happy with the rest of what I typed here, so I deleted it.  Just watch the film.

The Guard (2011); written and directed by John Michael McDonagh; starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Fionnula Flanagan and Mark Strong.

Perrier’s Bounty

Is he doomed to remain the dude he always was?

We’ve reached an era of uniform head-nodding when it comes to European “gangster underworld” films, in large part due to Guy Ritchie’s success in the genre (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla, etc).  His success has also spoiled this genre a little bit – “This is like one of those Guy Ritchie films.”  You will only hear that phrase uttered by Americans, for in reality, these types of films have been going on forever, albeit not receiving theatrical release in the oh-so-spoiled States, where we only skim the very top of the foreign film bucket.

Perrier’s Bounty is a Dublin (that’s in Ireland!) underworld film written by Mark O’Rowe, who mostly works in stageplay, but who is also responsible for the excellent Irish film Intermission from 2003.  PB stars Cillian Murphy as Michael, a young, near-destitute loner in modern-day Dublin, who owes a good deal of money to infamous gangster Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson).  His downstairs neighbor and secret crush Brenda (Jodie Whittaker) becomes involved when she guns down one of Perrier’s gangsters in a confused combination of concern for Michael and manic distress at being dumped by her loser boyfriend.  The duo make a run for it, along with Michael’s father Jim (Jim Broadbent) who appears out of nowhere, claiming that he received a visit from the Reaper, who told Jim he would die the next time he fell asleep.  The film also features appearances from Liam Cunningham as “The Mutt,” a man said to help those in debt; and Gabriel Byrne as the mysterious, deep-voiced narrator, whose identity you can probably guess just from what I’ve written so far.  If not, you’ll find out in the final ten seconds of the film, so don’t fret.

PB is a mixture of crime thriller, dark-ish comedy, and formula romance.  Where it stands out from other “like Guy Ritchie but…” films is its heart.  Is it fully expected that Michael and Brenda will be a couple in the end?  Of course.  But is it still immensely satisfying if they do?  Absolutely.  Murphy, Gleeson and Broadbent get to use their real accents, which makes you appreciate the work that goes into their phony American and British ones even more.  Whittaker, known for her appearances in St. Trinian’s and Venus, is the only woman among the principal cast, and serves mainly as the romantic interest for Michael and the fuel for some of his decisions (a problem for women in a great many films lately; see Christopher Nolan’s lady issues), but even so, she plays the role with convincing passion.  Broadbent, as usual, is lovable and hilarious, and the inclusion of Byrne, whose voice looms over the film like a cloud of vultures, is spirited.

The twists, while involving, are relatively easy to see coming, but the characters move through them convincingly enough.  There’s a near-progressive moment when one of Perrier’s lead henchmen reveals his homosexuality, but this detail is used mostly for humor (Gleeson: “Love is love, no matter how queer”).

All in all, the mixed drink of comedy, thriller, “like Guy Ritchie but…” and cute romance (in Ireland!) is a delicious one.  The father-son conflict is well-performed (and occasionally quite touching), and the quirky characters all have their place.  Just note that if you needed the Pikey subtitles for Brad Pitt in Snatch, you’ll be reading a hell of a lot during Perrier’s Bounty.

Perrier’s Bounty (2009); written by Mark O’Rowe; directed by Ian Fitzgibbon; starring Cillian Murphy, Jodie Whittaker, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson.