After watching the trailer of The Guard, apart from the ‘spaghetti western’ vibe, there was a sense of In Bruges to the ‘black comedy’ and ‘crime drama’, plus Brendan Gleeson’s presence. However, all too often modern film trailers have become to eager to entice crowds by showing everything. And after a bunch of funny jokes and clever dialogue, The Guard fails to truly replicate the humour and promise from the trailer. This being John Michael McDonagh’s debut as a feature director, and his second attempt at screenwriting, his inexperience shows with a generic story, poor ending and faulty cinematography and sound design. Yet, there is some entertainment to be grasped from some terrific performances, the amazing Brendan Gleeson putting in a fantastic one, and some witty dialogue. But The Guard feels shallow and a missed opportunity.
The plot follows Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) , a member of the Irish police service, as he goes about his usual business; hookers, booze and......work . Yet after bodies start emerging and FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) becomes involved, a complex web of corruption, drugs and murders follows. Its up to Boyle and Everett to team up and take down the gang of drug dealers, bringing an end to the wave of criminal activity. The story is very much a homage to the ‘buddy cop’ genre such as Lethal Weapon and Beverley Hill Cop ,yet in a distinctly Irish manner. Racist comedy weaves into the typical structure: Two mismatched police officers argue and bicker, but eventually build a partnership that sees them overcome the bad guys, and succeed. There are also strong comparisons to the ‘spaghetti westerns’ genres; A rural village setting being corrupted by evil ‘gunslingers’, forcing a hero to rise with the help of a mismatched sidekick......... This becomes distinctly evident with tracks from the soundtrack beng obviously influenced by the likes of Ennio Morricone. The disappointing ending also has the ‘mysterious ranger’ slant to it, as it attempts to be cryptic or enigmatic. However rather than leaving on a satisfied note, it simply feels lacklustre and ill-advised.
Yet whilst the story may be ‘generic’, the cast is fantastic with some big names. However the focus of the film is between Brendan Gleeson and his unlikely alliance with Don Cheadle. Gleeson is a brilliant lead, creating a strong personality that leaves a lasting and humorous impression. Meanwhile Cheadle is solid and brings seriousness amongst the joking Irish. But when both are on screen, the two never really truly connect. While they share some fantastic squabbles, their dialogue becomes too formulaic and predictable, as Gleeson constantly spurs out racist remarks and smug facial expressions. Its funny to watch, but there’s no depth or emotional chemistry which leaves the two feeling rather shallow. Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham perform well as the ruthless, yet witty drug dealers. But there’s a distinct lack of development to some of the main characters. For example, Katarina Cas’s character is quickly introduced and has a significant amount of screen time, but nothing really becomes of her. She’s merely a plot device, rather than a solid personality, and this is the same for many of the others.
The cinematography and editing is another area that is disappointing with McDonagh’s directing debut. The recent cliché of 360 panning shots, really feels out of place and poorly undertaken, and so too are the opening aerial ones. There is also a disjointedness to the film's construct and editing. Not to spoil anything, but one scene sees us exploring a character, then the next minutes she has passed away. It seems all too sudden, rushed and undeveloped.
Overall, The Guard is an enjoyable film but feels shallow. John Michael McDonagh’s script and directing suffers from his inexperience, with some sketchy screenwriting, character development and cinematography. While great individual performances from Gleeson and Cheadle help to create an amusing atmosphere, their partnership never completely works. However, some genuine laughs and solid acting create an relatively entertaining film, but unfortunately nothing more.