Review by Nathan Samdahl (C)
The Guard is a film that works on many levels, but ultimately proves to be its own worst enemy. The debut feature of writer/director John Michael McDonagh, The Guard sports an impressive cast, including Brendan Gleeson, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and one of my all-time personal favorites, Don Cheadle.
Gleeson delivers an impressive performance as the troubled, morally ambiguous Sergeant Gerry Boyle. Combining a little Bad Lieutenant with Affliction, Gleeson creates a character that on the surface is manipulative and flippant, but underneath possesses an often fierce intellect and affection for others. Each moment with Boyle is something new and unexpected, always amusing.
This is also where my primary issue with the film comes in. While Gleeson is amusing, the film stops short of making him truly comedic. This is a positive as the resulting character is wholly unique, but also a negative as every moment where the potential for a laugh is present, Gleeson and director McDonagh always seem to pull back. One more joke, one more line and the audience, myself included, would be hooked and probably in hysterics.
In comparison to his brother Martin McDonagh's film In Bruges, which also stars Brendan Gleeson, the scenes and dialogue in The Guard don't match the pace, and feel looser in construction than those in In Bruges. With In Bruges, every line of dialogue pops and the timing is spot on. In The Guard... not so much.
Perfecting a dark comedy like this is very difficult task. So much is dependent on the performers and using their character nuances to fine tune each individual moment. The Guard certainly does not fall on its face, but it does lack those pitch perfect moments that stick with you. Instead there are a lot of "near" moments.
Additionally, outside of Gleeson's character, much of the story and supporting characters seem a bit rehashed. Don Cheadle delivers a good performance, but the role he plays could have been just as easily filled by many other actors. Mark Strong, who always plays the villain so effectively, does well, but seems to tread on very familiar territory (see: RocknRolla or Kick-Ass).
Building some of the supporting characters up closer to the level of detail given to Boyle would have helped The Guard to be a more unique journey. As is, there are some fun moments and sequences (the first scene with Gleeson and Cheadle and the final shootout are both great), but not a complete story that will stick with you for years to come.
A solid debut feature nonetheless, McDonagh could come onto the scene in a big way much the way his brother did, but I think it will require one more film. He is someone to watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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