Many a films have dealt with the issues of what happens when the rural meets the urban, particularly when concerned with crime dealings. However, when this concept is put in the hands of John Michael McDonagh, perhaps the most underrated director working right now, viewers are given a completely irreverent reversal of the traditional characters we expect in such a film. Instead of the urban detective being foul-mouthed and slightly corrupt, The Guard decides to make the rural Irishman the person traipsing the line of good and evil, which when we consider the nature of society, this seems like a slightly more believable situation. Nothing, and trust me I mean nothing, is bad about The Guard, like McDonagh's other masterpiece, In Bruges, this film is funny throughout, never collapsing to notions of political correctness, but also managing never to be in bad taste. McDonagh plays up on racist ignorance and stereotypes in a more general sense in many of his works, but manages to always undermine them, while also providing voices to individuals who more often than not lack a representation in cinema. As is always the case with McDonagh, viewers are offered a brilliant narrative that is riveting, tense and always rewarding, often flipping the entire understanding of who is to be trusted throughout the film. Characters are always flawed within the film, but somehow it is easy to come to love them nonetheless, even the bad guys who inhabit The Guard are either so philosophically bad ass or madly insane that you cannot help but love them. I know I could receive a lot of flack for making a suggestion such as this, but John Michael McDonagh, exists within the same vein as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, but manages to be way way cooler when all is said and done. So if you have not figured it out by now, I am enthralled by The Guard and find it to be everything one could want from not only a comedy, but a solid piece of cinema in general.
The Guard centers on the life of Seargant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) a foul-mouthed local cop who has no qualms exploiting the petty criminals of his small island town, with the intent of taking drugs, engaging in sex with prostitutes and dismissing his co-workers until he dies. It seems as though Boyle will get away with his hazardous life of carefree exploits, until he is assigned a new partner Aiden McBride (Rory Keenan), who is young and gung-ho to fight crime. When an inexplicable murder occurs, Boyle's new partner demands that they pour everything into getting to the bottom of it, Boyle mocks his eagerness and continues on his daily gallivanting as though nothing occurred. Things change drastically though when FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) enters the picture. Wendell brings news of a large scale drug trafficking case that involves men from London and Dublin who have taken up residence in Boyle's small island community. Forced to become involved with the case Boyle moves through the motions of an investigation, only become more concerned when McBride is inexplicably assassinated. The result of McBride's death is the forced cooperation of Boyle and Everett which leads to a series of uproarious encounters, most predicated on Boyle's latent racist ideologies, something for which he never apologizes. As the investigation unfolds, it becomes evident that the entirety of the Irish police force is being bribed to turn a blind eye to the going-ons, something that Boyle becomes aware of after his own blackmail. The only person unaware of the corruption occuring is Everett who succumbs to a lack of evidence and plans to leave for The States the next day. Boyle assumes no role to inform him of his misinformation, until he himself is threatened by one of the criminals, something that sparks a nerve in Boyle to do the right thing. After killing his captor, Boyle informs Everett of what has occurred and undertakes a revenge and destruction of the drug lords, eventually accruing the help of Everett in the process. Boyle is lost at sea during the shootout and we are left uncertain of whether he survives, but the ending suggests that Everett has come to respect Boyle not only as a cop, but as a friend as well.
As could be said about any of McDonagh's work, The Guard occupies a variety of different points of criticism and in a rare occurrence I have decided to list a few of them as opposed to focusing on one specifically, it is just such a rich film that to pick specifics would be an injustice. First off, as I noted earlier in the introduction, McDonagh often focuses on voices that fall to the way side in cinema, particularly crime thrillers. In the case of The Guard voices are given to a black cop, a gay male, and even a Croatian woman, collectively this combination does not exist in any other fictional film that I am aware of, and certainly not one with such global appeal. Furthermore, The Guard is a study of the relationship between viewers and how they live through the characters depicted. Like a Pulp Fiction or a Fight Club, viewers cannot help but adore the characters created within the film, however, one must also reconcile the actions undertaken by the characters. While we can come to love a person like Boyle nearly instantly, the narrative constantly reminds us that he is insanely flawed and incredibly troubled, something that manifests itself most obviously with the relationship between himself and his mother. Finally, The Guard, as is no surprise, considers the idea of ethic and moral relativity. Boyle clearly exists in a problematic divide between good and evil, in that he is a cop, but also engages in a slew of illegal activities. Furthermore, the films villain's reside in a problematic gray area, particularly their leader who is philosophical about his actions and clearly avoids violence and murder when possible. The film ultimately suggest that good and evil is not a matter of the action, as much as whether the behaviors hinder the liberties of others, a profound statement for a blatantly comedic film.
Key Scene: Let's just say it involves a John Denver Song.
Buy It, Buy It. BUY IT!