Monday, August 29, 2011

'The Guard' Offers Laughs, Gasps In Equal Share

"The Guard" IS an above-average film, by the way. I noted previously that it opened this past weekend in limited release.

This self-proclaimed "fish-out-of-water" story -- there's a funny moment when one character identifies the activities taking place in the film as just that -- is, on the surface at least, "In The Heat of the Night" transported to Ireland. Don Cheedle is the black American FBI agent swimming with a foreign school of fish.

The source of his dislocation isn't racial prejudice -- this is 2011, after all, and not "In The Heat of the Night"'s Deep South of 1967. Cheedle's FBI agent Wendell Everett is a visitor in a land where everyone, not just the criminals, speaks in code, and it's one he's not familiar with. His Gaelic partner in crime fighting, Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendon Gleeson) is a small-town constable with a taste for sly, ironic wit. At first, Everett can't decide whether Boyle is brilliant or an oafish idiot.

Boyle is a bit weary of his life's work, policing petty crime and surveying auto accident scenes. Meanwhile, he's preoccupied with his mother, who is suffering from an unnamed illness that will soon end her days. As a country lawman, he's unprepared for the goings on when big-time gangsters come to his village (or is he?).

Much of the action sequences are appropriately brutal -- it's clear that these bad guys are not to be toyed with. But overall, the comical interplay between Gleeson and Cheedle is too disarming to call "The Guard" a hard-boiled crime story.

The film sets up the story's groundwork at a leisurely pace. But once it takes off we're hooked. By the end, the story almost magically elevates Gleeson's Sgt. Boyle to mythic proportions, although there's only the barest hint of magical realism in this film.

The ending pays homage to numerous films of the gangster genre, and without going into detail you'll recognize the climax if you're familiar with bad-guy films of the 1930s. Even if you aren't, this one stands on its own.

--Paul Parcellin

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