Tuesday, August 9, 2011

John Michael McDonagh: Fire on the Irish Plain (The Guard)

Don Cheadle, Brendan Gleeson, The Guard, Sony Pictures Classics, 2011.

Brendan Gleeson has trumped his co-stars again and again in countless pictures over the years. In everything from Braveheart to Gangs of New York and 28 Days Later, he has sharpened his tools as both a heavy with heart and a character actor of unconventional grace. Master John Boorman gave him the chance to shine in a rare lead in the excellent political biopic The General in 1998. With a swift, economical debut, John Michael McDonagh has provided Gleeson a meaty part in which he can stretch out and air his distinct talents.

The Guard is a fairly conventional policier satire cum cop buddy picture, with the action transplanted to a coastal Irish burg. Gleeson accentuates his gruff Irish masculinity with a sporadic glimpse of heart and soul. His shifty cop, derisively referred to as "the guard" by the film's baddies, is an entertainingly written if routine character in a fairly routine movie. What raises it up are the two leads and their catch-fire chemistry, and the thorny dialogue by McDonagh.

Don Cheadle plays straight man to Gleeson's lovable scenery chewing, and what comes forth are the obvious yet guffaw-inducing culture clashes between old world and new world, Irish and American, Anglo-Saxon and African-American. The social commentary emblazons the plot mechanisms with a light gale wind which propels along the bland visuals. Mark Strong adds a notch to his dastardly villain belt.

What we come away with are McDonagh's talent as a writer, his promise as a director, distinctly through his transplanting of the (spaghetti) western to the plains of Ireland. Most especially, we leave with the appreciation that a gifted character actor has been afforded the opportunity to flex his leading man muscles.

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