Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Guard

I sometimes wonder how they do it. All over Europe and in other places around the world, people are making damn good films that should make the Hollywood sausage machine deeply shamed. They scrounge together some money. This one had at least a dozen companies listed in the opening credits, plus something called An Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board, for you non-Gaelic speakers). My guess is that if each of them threw in €10,000 it would just about cover the budget of this movie, not counting star salaries, which I would wager were not astronomical. So how do they do it?

It’s the script, stupid! These films are labors of love that can take years to assemble and finance, but they are somebody’s dream. Here the writer-director, John Michael McDonagh, has only one screen credit: the 2003 version of Ned Kelly, which I thought was pretty good, though not great. He has one in progress now, Calvary, which sounds interesting. (I will go see it simply on the strength of it starring the co-star of this one, Brendan Gleeson.) Wiki says he has other works in development, including—get this—a TV series called Chaos, Inc., about a Buddhist private investigator in Las Vegas. I would definitely tune in to that one.

But back to this picture. In Ireland the national police are called the Garda Síochána, Garda for short. Brendan Gleeson is a Garda officer in a small hinterland district. Word comes through that a huge drug shipment, half a billion dollars worth, is going to land somewhere on the coast. An FBI agent, Don Cheadle (and these are two of the very best actors working today) is sent across the pond to help the provincial louts find it. And that’s pretty much it for plot.

I suppose you could call it a buddy picture, as they don’t get along famously at first. But they never quite become buddy-buddy, if you know what I mean. Gleeson is irascible, he’s seen it all, and he’s stunningly insensitive, or at least he seems so. (One of his great lines: “I’m Irish. Racism is part of my cultural heritage.”) All the delight here is in the dialogue, the dead-pan acting, and the matter-of-fact way the old Garda deals with everything. I was getting a big laugh every two or three minutes. Big laugh.

Many of the laughs were quite black, indeed, and if you had seen the ghoulish delight I was taking in some of the scenes, you might be justified in thinking there was something seriously wrong with me. But I thrive on black humor, the blacker the better, and it’s seldom been as black as this. From the very first scene, it had me. It was the perfect way to state, with no words at all, that this guy really has seen everything. Three times. At the same time, I really got to care for this man, and his poor clueless partner, the black man from America. There’s some bloody stuff, but never over the top. I recommend this one as highly as I can ever recommend anything.