Monday, September 26, 2011

The Guard

PCMR Verdict:A sharp script, a fun story, and Gleeson is excellent in the lead role. This is the movie equivalent of going for a quiet pint, and then ending up on session.

PCMR Rating: 8/10

PCMR doesn't envy the label of 'character actor'. For men, this label represents the velvet rope division between the elite group of VIPs with jaws just square enough and appeal just sexy enough to be called leading men, and the rest of us. It has less to do with acting ability, more with how traditionally good looking you are. Steve Buscemi is a character actor: you know, the one in Fargo who was “kinda funny-lookin'.”

There can't be many such equivalents in other professions. PCMR struggles to imagine people being refused the role of team leader in the I.T. department because they're not handsome enough. “It's just that, we think of you more as the team leader's best friend. You know... helping with his character's exposition, without stealing the limelight.”

Despite his undoubted talent, and being in possession of that ephemeral quality of innate likeability, Brendan Gleeson has found himself in the character actor bracket throughout the higher-profile side of his career. In his Hollywood roles, he has dutifully provided exposition opportunities to leading actors in an impressive string of high profile productions such as 'Braveheart', 'Troy', 'A.I.', '28 Days Later' and, more recently, three of the Harry Potter movies. (Surely, there is no better nod to one's standing in the Acting Firmament than a recurring Potter role).

In Irish productions, by contrast, Gleeson's place on the billing is often more reflective of his abilities, and he has taken the lead in some fine movies to emerge from these shores in the last twenty years: 'I Went Down' and 'The General', among others.

In more recent years for Gleeson, Martin McDonagh's 'In Bruges' has upset this dichotomy, providing him with a lead role in an Irish movie that has deservedly enjoyed international recognition. Also, it seems a family dynasty was created with that movie, because McDonagh's brother, John Michael, is the man behind 'The Guard', and in PCMR's humble opinion, it is just as good a movie, even if it is an entirely different animal.

Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a small-town country copper with a penchant for Dublin whores, who finds himself embroiled in a drug-smuggling investigation so big that the FBI are interested. Don Cheadle is the imported FBI agent who finds himself dealing more and more with Boyle, and tellingly, he declares that he can't decide whether Boyle is “really smart, or really fuckin' dumb”. It's essentially a cops and robbers story, with the gangster contingent including the workaholic, omnipresent Mark Strong, as well as a couple of other, more familiar Irish bad buys, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot (more character actors!).

It has to be said though, the story of the Guard plays second fiddle to the really excellent dialogue, which gives the characters... well, proper characters. The phrase 'inner life' probably best describes this by-product of good writing, where the actors have room to breathe around their lines, and the audience can enjoy guessing whether they're telling the truth, or leading someone up the garden path.

The excellent writing gives Gleeson all the material he needs to reminder us just how good he really is, and he's excellent in this. Cheadle does well in support, and the three gangsters (Strong, Cunningham and Wilmot in particular) all seem to be enjoying themselves, but Gleeson and McDonagh are the big winners here.

The Guard is punchy, witty film-making, and deserving of your attention. Gleeson is at his endearing, charismatic best, and if this doesn't get him bigger, better roles in Hollywood movies, then I'm not sure what will.

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