MIFF11 - THE GUARD Review

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is in its glorious 60th year and if the initial days of screenings are anything to go by, it will definitely be one to remember. I have outlined some MIFF picks, and hope after reading this you will seek out these films at the other sessions they are playing or elsewhere if you are not in Melbourne.











Life as a cop does not necessarily have to be hard work! Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) in his own way gets results and the job done, and makes it look too easy. Although he has a slew of personal problems he has a dedication for justice that is ultimately unwavering. His methods do not translate well for an African American FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) however, who comes to this small, bleak town in Ireland on the hunt for some drug traffickers. The results of their forced partnership along with the impressive and hilarious supporting cast make The Guard one of the funniest comedies of the year.


Brendan Gleeson deserves some kind of award. He is an extremely strong and side-splitting premise in The Guard as a tough as nails, take no prisoners cop on the beat. With his help The Guard remains a consistently funny genre film, but the untypical character roles are what make this film truly stand out. Gerry himself is hard to define as a protagonist or antagonist. A simple policeman role is turned on its head through his value system; here is a man that slacks off at work, he curses a lot, drinks, and smokes, takes drugs openly, regularly has prostitutes visit him and holds no respect for anyone and yet, he excels at his job. His issues are subtly explored in his relationship with his mother. She is the vehicle for his problems and a lot of what he values is reflected in her, but this is not critical to the story and even she is very funny. This boisterous attitude that Gerry carries with him is amplified by the small scope of the sleepy town he guards. He is hilarious even before Wendell turns up and more so after, as his shtick now has something to reverb off of.


Make no mistake The Guard is not a buddy cop movie or a bromance, but is sensible and authentic. The scenes of awkward racism with Gerry towards Wedell are not overstated or exploited and feel natural as part of a harmless but offhandedly offensive verbal exchange. Wendell remarks to Gerry that he must be "either really fucking smart or really fucking stupid" and this is the strength of The Guard, characters that are genuinely funny to watch and hear but do not overstep the boundaries and become moronic for comedy-sake. They are grounded in their roles as absurd as they are and include a philosophical sociopathic assassin, a greedy unmoral police commissioner and Mark Strong in particular; who as Clive gives a command performance as an unlikely criminal that is cynical, tired and has a death wish. His scenes are some of the high lights; one in particular has him question the morals and ethics of criminals in a scene where he gives some corrupt policeman pay-off money to allow himself to conduct the trafficking business. In an all-too-typical trope referring to the briefcase full of bills they question "is it all there?" His reply is both extremely funny and critical of the standard genre conventions.


The setting itself is a perfectly bizarre one for such a massive criminal operation. Even if half the police were not in on the illegal action their resources would probably be too few and thus enter the FBI. Cheadle gives a nuanced performance of a frustrated man lost in translation and culture. His base responses to the small town folk and their extremely limited views are comedy gold, in the end he inquires with a horse, because at this point the delineation of communication is comparable to talking with the ignorant locals.


The small town colloquialisms are almost reminiscent of the Cohen brothers, only without the poetry of the dialogue prevalent in most of their works. None the less the small town setting makes for an interesting sort of psychosis, and most of this is utilized in the kid. A creepy tyke on a bike who knows way more than he should and is a macguffin for Gerry to move the bare plot along, not that there is anything wrong with that.


Director John Michael McDonagh has made great use of the setting. Although it is a fairly bland little village, each scene is so descriptive and acts as a set piece reflecting the mood in the choice props and lighting. The Guard is told through the point of view of Gerry and thus it almost barely feels like there is any connection to the lawful institutions. He is a vigilante; a man on a mission who knows the consequences of his actions but martyrs himself for the greater good. Although loosely defined, the mission drives him to the perfect conclusion and in its own way answers the question Wendell so brashly put; is he so fucking smart or so fucking stupid?


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