THE GUARD Review - Destined For IN BRUGES-esque Cult Success!

The Guard, whilst hilarious, is not quite as poetic and lyrically written as In Bruges. But it is arguably the better film in terms of the stylised and un-cluttered look and the brilliant use of Latin American music.

rating: 4

(Our Berlin Film Festival review re-posted as The Guard is playing in UK Cinemas now) Who else saw the poster for the excellent In Bruges in 2008 and, in ignorance, thought it looked like a turkey? I'll admit that film passed me by until just about everyone I know told me to watch it. Still sceptical, it wasn't until the Academy Award nomination, coupled with the film's position on some critics' end of year polls, that I sought it out. I'm glad I did, because In Bruges turned out to be one of the funniest films in recent memory, with a quality of dialogue and use of language to rival the Coen Brothers. Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright responsible for the film (and who won an Academy Award in 2006 for his equally brilliant short Six Shooter), is yet to make second feature. But you may be pleased to learn that his brother John Michael McDonagh has written and directed his own film of comparable greatness called The Guard, produced by Martin and again starring Brendan Gleeson. It's the story of Gerry Boyle, a policeman based in a little town on the West Coast of Ireland, who stumbles upon a drug-related homicide and is forced to assist FBI agent Wendell Everett - played by Don Cheadle - in closing in on an international drug trafficking ring which boasts Mark Strong in its ranks. Like the characters of In Bruges, Boyle has a subversive sense of humour, which rubs Cheadle's more disciplined law man up the wrong way. "I thought only black boys were drug dealers" Boyle says incredulously - and it's never clear whether he is knowingly confrontational or just ignorant. When Agent Everett is offended by his racism Boyle replies, "I'm Irish. Racism is part of me culture." To say The Guard is 'black comedy' is to put it lightly. In addition to being a heavy drinker, Boyle beds prostitutes and makes extra money from selling firearms to the IRA. The film opens on his observing a car crash only to walk over to the dead body of a teenage victim and frisk it for drugs, which he find and then uses on the spot. It's painfully funny throughout, never more so than when Boyle discovers the catalytic murder and finds the number "5 1/2" painted on the wall next to the body. "Well, there is a film called 8 1/2. There is also a film called Seven" a colleague says, hoping to glean some answers from Hollywood, a place which represents the Irish characters' only experience of this sort of crime. Much like Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz, there is also the gentle humour of regional difference (suspicion of Dubliners as "city boys") and of contrast between US TV "cops" the local village Garda (the Irish police). Just like In Bruges there is also a heart to it. It isn't just "politically incorrect", making offensive comments for the sake of easy laughs. Boyle's relationship with his dying mother is never especially sentimental, but it is sad and says a lot about the psychology of the errant protagonist. There is a strange comparison that could be drawn with True Grit in that, like Rooster Cogburn, Sergeant Gerry Boyle lives a lonely life by his own wayward moral code. He is likewise a figure who revels in bloody extra-judicial vengeance and yet ultimately he is redeemed via this action. I think both films understand that contradiction and it is part of what makes those characters acceptable heroes. The Guard, whilst hilarious, is not quite as poetic and lyrically written as In Bruges. But it is arguably the better film in terms of the stylised and un-cluttered look and the brilliant use of Latin American music. It was received with incredible enthusiasm here in Berlin, despite the localised nature of the humour in many places. I was the only person laughing at the Daniel O'Donnell poster prominently displayed on Boyle's bedroom wall, for instance. But if the audience here laughed so hard I can only imagine that will work even better in the UK and - especially - Ireland. It is unlikely to do big business in cinemas, but The Guard is surely destined for long-term cult success in the manner of In Bruges.

A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.