Irish Cinema over the last few years has been dominated by Irish-playwrights-turned-filmmakers. Mark O'Rowe wrote the recently released Perrier's Bounty, Conor McPherson directing and writing The Eclipse and to most critical acclaim Martin McDonagh's hit-film In Bruges. Ironically enough, Martin McDonagh's brother, John Michael, is not a playwright - never has been - and he has helmed the most recent Irish comedy The Guard. The film has been incredibly successful - currently sitting pretty at the Number 2 spot as most-sucessful-Irish-independent film in Ireland - more succesful that In Bruges and closing in on The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach. When Slashfilm's Germain Lussier says "'Hot Fuzz’ Plus ‘In Bruges’ Equals Funnier Than Both." and Wendy Ide stating that this is "Without doubt the strongest debut film of the year so far", it is clear this is one film not to ignore.
The Bad Cop
The Guard tells us the story about Garda (Police) Sgt Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) as he investigates the murder of a local lad and the ensuing drug-operation that is occuring on the West Coast of Ireland. To add to the mix, FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) joins the force to assist and, to put it lightly, Boyle is the last person Everett wants to be paired with.
Imagine Philip Glenister's 'Gene Hunt' from Life on Mars combined with Nic Cage's immoral Bad Lieuteant: Port of Call New Orleans, in Ireland, and we are getting closer to The Guard. But it would be wrong to assume that Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson are a funny-duo in a buddy-comedy. The Guard, like In Bruges is marketed as a comedy. But again, like In Bruges, the comedy has a darker undercurrent. The opening sequence shows a group of reckless teeange-drivers speeding through the Irish landscape and, as they pass Boyle, they crash. Its a bloody crash and bodies lie strewn across the road - yet Boyle ruffles through the pockets and steals some drugs. You can see that McDonagh does not want an Irish version of Hot Fuzz with the comedy and these gritty elements give the film a realist-edge.
To use the western-genre on the Irish landscape is pure cinema - utilising the sound, the visuals and the script, unlike the heavy reliance on script alone that McDonagh's playwright-comtemporaries evoke in their films. Calexico provides the soundtrack and it is clearly inspired by the Ennio Morricone scores of Sergio Leone's spaghetti-westerns - and as we see Boyle prepare for his day of work he could almost don the man-with-no-name cape before he leaves. Even, the choice of cinemtographer in Larry Smith (of Eyes Wide Shut and Bronson) shows McDonagh relying much more on visual spectacle than script alone.
It is a strong film, but the climactic shoot-out feels a little too inevitable. Considering the film seems to go against the grain wiht lines such as "I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture", it is a shame that the film ends with a 'showdown'. In Bruges has a stand out sequence as Ralph Fiennes explains how "this is a shoot-out", effectively mocking the inevitable consequence of a film - even Mark Strong explains the nature police-blackmail in The Guard. Though The Guard attempts to set itself aside from the buddy-comedies and fish-out-of-water films, it inevitably adheres to the codes and conventions of these films in the final act.
LOVEfilm organised the screening and, during the Q&A with McDonagh following the film, he explained how when Gleeson and Cheadle read the script and were involved days later. Even Mark Strong, who McDonagh was sure would be too busy, ensured he made time for it in his schedule. It has such strong characters that this quality is supported by an increidble, passionate knowledge of cinema - and it is this that put this film in a league of its own.