Friday, June 22, 2012

All In a Day's Work:

Directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Guard stars Brendan Gleeson as an unorthodox Garda with a penchant for alcohol, drugs, sex and racist remarks. With a yearning soundtrack by Calexico, the film presents a modern western (as set in Ireland).
All In a Day's Work
The Guard / Film Review
June 22
by Chris Homa
All In a Day's Work
The Guard / Film Review
Released Jul. 29 '11
Words By Chris Homa
Roaming the lush and lawless Irish West is Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a Garda with a penchant for drinking and an affinity for drugs. All is relatively plain and peaceful in his quaint Connemara (save for the nominal crimes and car accidents) when an occult murder occurs. Forced to investigate the killing, Boyle (played by Brendan Gleeson) finds himself at odds with FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) as the two struggle to make sense of the murder and a possible drug smuggling operation. Faced with homicide, narcotics and corruption, Gerry Boyle must make a decision: to turn a blind eye and continue a life of indulgence, or to stand up and defend what’s right.

Directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh), The Guard is a refreshingly funny independent film. While much of the humor relies on the racially offensive remarks made by Gleeson’s character against Cheadle’s (“I’m Irish, sir. Racism is a part of my culture.”), the movie makes extensive use of black comedy to create a guiltily enjoyable film. Whether Boyle’s sampling acid from the pocket of a car accident fatality or arranging an orgy in the midst of a murder investigation, the movie finds plenty of opportunities to laugh at the darker side of life. At the same time, the film has its emotional highs and lows, particularly concerning the subplot detailing Boyle’s mother and her cancerous decline. Skillfully acted, The Guard accomplishes the impressive feat of shedding light on humanity, thereby creating a stronger comedy.

In terms of appearance, cinematographer Larry Smith makes his presence known by his masterful use of color. The Guard is a beautiful movie to look at, as one narrow swath of spectrum often dominates the frame. Whether it’s the greens of Boyle’s bedroom, the blues of the interrogation room, or the greys of the premier scene’s sky, color dominates the look of the film. Coupled with the breath-taking shots of the Irish countryside, the movie is at worst a pleasure to look at and at best a finely crafted piece of cinema.

However, while sleek, humorous and enjoyable, The Guard seemingly flounders in terms of plot. Although already a dialogue-heavy film, the ninety-six minutes of screen time fail to do the story justice – the sequence with the IRA member seems rushed, side characters remain unexplored, and the hero (or antihero) of our tale never quite develops. In truth, the biggest mistake may be that Gleeson’s character is left largely unexplained. Tidbits and anecdotes are given, such as his indulgence in drugs and prostitutes and his doubtable claim of being a former Olympic swimmer. But in the end, Boyle is never forced to change his ways or acknowledge error, as would any traditional hero. This is not poor storytelling, however, but rather a different type of storytelling.

The director describes the film as a western, and The Guard certainly plays as such. There is the lone sheriff, the untamed landscape, the Morricone-esque soundtrack, and the group of villains coming to do wrong. This type of story doesn’t necessarily call for strides in development or personal revelations, but rather focuses on the sheriff and his will to deliver the town from evil. In other words, The Guard is a character piece, testing the integrity of Boyle in the face of injustice. In the final hour, will he run or don uniform? Will he look away or ride ahead? In a way, The Guard is about responsibility, whether it’s responsibility to town, friends or self. Perhaps the film leaves Boyle’s past murky and open to discussion, but it does give one answer: whether the sheriff has the courage to do the right thing.

Of final note is the film’s soundtrack. Deftly composed by Calexico, the score reminisces in the Spaghetti deserts crafted by Ennio Morricone, skillfully employing horn, drum, guitar and moaning, among other things. Each track has a pace and momentum that moves the film without suffocating it. Besides the expansive landscapes and overall themes, Calexico’s score is what makes the movie a western, and beautifully so.

Although the shortened running time limits it, The Guard is a strikingly-crafted character piece, a western in all aspects besides location, and a fine film to experience.
Posted on June 22, 2012

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