The Irish can make a movie. They know comedy and drama and how those can be conveyed in a movie. Apparently, they also know crime. There are a series of movies that I’ve seen that fit into this category of comedy/drama/crime and are exceptionally good. They’re so good that I usually don’t want to review them. What is there to say about them? They’re awesome. Those movies are Perrier’s Bounty (2009), In Bruges (2008), Intermission (2003), Ordinary Decent Criminal (2000), The General (1998), and (the one I saw tonight) The Guard (2011) and I’m certain Seven Psychopaths (2012) will be another. Charter members include The Crying Game (1992) and Layer Cake (2004) as not really comedy or Irish, respectively. But they are all very alike and what goes for The Guard will often go for these other movies.
Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a member of the Garda (police) in western Ireland (Galway) which is a rather rural area allowing Boyle to be a law unto himself. He has a regular relationship with prostitutes, he will drop acid he found at a car wreck, he will not take much note of crime scene procedure. So, when international drug smugglers (Francis (Liam Cunningham), Clive (Mark Strong), and Liam (David Wilmot)) come to his sleepy end of Ireland, bringing murders and American investigators, in the form of Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), Boyle doesn’t get overexcited. But the problem with an eccentric policeman is that you never know what he’s going to care about.
Gleeson stars in four of the seven (or nine) movies listed in the introduction. I suspect that it’s because he holds two important qualities to the Irish Comedy genre–he’s Irish and he’s hilarious. The first thing I saw knowing Gleeson was in it was Braveheart (1995) and by then he was 40. His first film credit was in 1990 when he was 35. That puts Gleeson into the “there’s always hope” argument with Nigel Hawthorne. He’s a terrific actor, there’s no question. He puts so much personality into the parts he plays. He’s a huge fella and can be as cuddly as a teddy bear or as ferocious as an actual bear. He’s good, you know it, I know it, what insights are possible?
A word on the sense of humor. This is, as I said, a highly representative example of the Irish sense of humor (at least as it manifests itself in film) and, whatever they might like to say, these traits are all shared with British comedy. The drug smugglers are a very philosophical bunch. Liam can quote Nietzsche, Clive is a fan of Bertrand Russell, but Francis prefers Schopenhauer. Clive is disappointed in the lack of fulfillment that his chosen career has brought to him. It means he has to deal with the dregs of society and that is to be lamented. Boyle has an opinion on Russia writers–his conclusion being that “they never come to the f@$&in’ point”–and he prefers a latte. And they all, to a man, swear like longshoremen. When his superior officer tells him to stop being a racist, Boyle replies, “I’m Irish, sir, it’s a part of my culture.” When his inferior says that he’s on it, Boyle thinks aloud, “‘I’m on it sarge.’ He thinks he’s if f*&kin’ Detroit.” Finding an explitive-free quote was a bit of a challenge.
On the other side of the movie, apart from the comedy, is the drama. The drama comes in two parts, the emotional and the violent. Violence is dealt with in a very disconnected fashion. People aren’t worried about the impending pain/death of others or their own. Where that takes its toll is on the emotional subtext that speaks to how much they really are worried about the violence and death. Their comic or harsh veneer is really a false face. Thus, their time with loved ones or the lack of it weighs heavy on them and it’s left unsaid. That’s why, when the main characters (and I’m speaking of the subgenre) take action, it doesn’t seem contrived for the benefit of the audience, but the natural extension of their anti-hero, contradictory philosophy–life may be meaningless, but evil will be revenged.
The movies named and The Guard in particular are also incredibly well-made. That is, they are thoughtfully paced, the music is superbly chosen and applied, and the camera work is quirky but suitable. There’s a great deal of borrowing going on. Because these comedies have, without fail, a very high amount of drama and sadness to them, they bring in the detached filming of something you’d find in an indie movie (that is, before it became mainstream). There’s a little Tarantino there as well. Nothing calls out to me as unique or innovative, but the creative process is bringing all parts together. Disparate tones come and go with perfect balance. And the talent is unmatched. John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed The Guard (and his brother Martin wrote and directed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths) and the dialogue is absolutely hysterical. The cast in this and each of the movies listed initially are superb–including, with Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, and Colm Meaney who starred in at least two–as well as the writing. They’ve also got very funny accents.
I can’t really make any insightful complaints because these movies do not open themselves to imperfection. The battleground for these films is in the writing, the acting, and a threshold skill at direction. When the majority of those involved are proven talents and those unproven grow beside the best, they’re bound to succeed. If I were to pick nits, I would say that the storytelling could be sharper or that there’s a tendency to include over-sentimental moments that trip up the momentum. These are small faults. They aren’t trying to create masterpieces here, they’re just making great movies. And I promise you, they will last.
It’s $18 on BluRay. Steep, but worth the investment. If you’re on DVD, then I would definitely wait for that to come down.