Friday, 15 July 2011

The Guard; it's like Father Ted, but with guns, and drugs

The Guard isn't really like Father Ted, except that it's a comedy set in Ireland which was bankrolled with a lot of British money and doesn't really bother trying to be fully comprehensible to anyone outside Ireland. Father Ted was a huge success outside Ireland, but it's full of jokes which only Irish people had any chance of appreciating properly. The Guard is somewhat the same; everyone's going to laugh, but the subtext is going to get right past a lot of people who haven't grown up in Ireland.

It's a really good movie. There's a lot of good writing for the actors to get their teeth into, and a cast which can handle it well. You could argue back and forth about some of the ways the movie's paced; it jumps from one scene into another without warning, and without the kind of measured setup other movies would have. It's a movie which trusts people to keep up with what's going on. It's also a movie which lets the acting do the work; there's almost no action or stunts. A lot of the odd pacing comes down to showing us not so much what's happening as how people are reacting to something which has just happened off screen. The pace is set at the beginning; we see a car whipping along the roads of Connemara at high speed, and then cut to Brendan Gleeson's Garda Sergeant sitting in his patrol car at the side of the road, noticing the speeders. The next shot is him walking up slowly to the wreckage of the car and checking to see whether anyone's survived the crash. It's a very economical piece of story-telling; the producers saved a load of money where any other film would have spent a fortune on a car chase, and we also get a sense of Gleeson's way of dealing with things; if he can't stop something bad from happening, he's not going to work up a sweat trying to.

The thing I really liked about it was that the three main bad guys are a change from the ordinary run of movie villains. You really do get a sense of three guys who feel the same way about a life of crime that most of us feel about a life of ordinary work, the way any of us feel about a job really. Marking time, spinning our wheels a bit, wondering if there's something better we should be doing with our time, but in our hearts realising that we're stuck with it. Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong have a lot of fun with it all  - it's not their best line, but it's a great example; Strong asks Cunningham where he found the guys unloading a boat full of drugs and Cunningham says "I put an ad in the paper, henchmen wanted." They're good enough actors that they sell you on the idea of criminals smart enough to make jokes about being criminals.

The thing which is probably going to bewilder non-Irish people is Gleeson's relentless rudeness to Don Cheadle's FBI agent. If you haven't lived in Ireland, the whole concept of "slagging" can be hard to get your head around. That's one of two things which are probably going to get lost in translation; the other is Pat Shortt's cameo as a cowboy hat wearing IRA quartermaster. I don't know if Shortt could actually play someone sinister, but he doesn't even try here, and it rings wonderfully true as the kind of fixer you have round the edges of all kinds of things in Ireland. Whether anyone from outside the country will buy it, I have no idea.

Still, it's great to have another good Irish film.

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