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September 5, 2011 | by  | in Arts Film |
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The Guard

When your brother’s an incredibly talented, successful playwright who recently made a much-fêted transition to the silver screen, it’s only natural to feel insecure. It’s even more natural to feel insecure if you got to Hollywood first only to shit out, say, Heath Ledger’s Ned Kelly—how do you pick yourself up after your brother bests you at your own game?

Well, if The Guard is anything to go by, you don’t do it by nicking the best elements of your brother’s film and tacking them to a derivative buddy cop script like some kind of half-assed Lego house.

The Guard is the debut directorial feature John Michael McDonagh, the Niles Crane of the McDonagh family (his brother, Martin, most recently wrote and directed the outstanding In Bruges), and McDonagh indelibly owes a debt to the “in-yer-face” theatre and cinema of his brother (among others). It’s there in the brusque, comically ignorant lead; the eloquent, bloodthirsty upper-class antagonists; the snappy, expletive-laden dialogue; the vulgarity; the irrepressible Irishness. Truth be told, though, The Guard does give hints of doing good by the legacy of In Bruges and Martin McDonagh’s many plays, largely thanks to Brendan Gleeson. Playing the “unconventional” Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a Garda in a coastal Irish village who indulges as many vices as he can, Gleeson is a sheer delight to watch. Not only does Gleeson nail Boyle’s broad, uncouth persona, he subtly draws out Boyle’s unshakable belief in doing right by the people around him, giving the character a human element that could have been easily lost among the drugs and the prostitutes.
However, The Guard never rises above being a superficially entertaining genre exercise due to McDonagh’s script. Aside from Boyle, the characters, most notably a trio of aloof, drug-smuggling villains, feel less like people and more like loose concepts slinging banter at each other. Furthermore, that banter doesn’t sparkle with any regularity, McDonagh dropping clichés and wordy one-liners that only serve to pad out the space between the genuinely funny exchanges. The Guard appropriates tired genre tropes without doing anything exciting or interesting with them and, while an agreeable way to spend 90 minutes, it ultimately finishes as it starts—an exhibition piece for Gleeson’s considerable skills and little else.

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