I'll turn you into a tree, motherfucker.
The Guard isn't a good movie. Not really. What distinguishes it from the many, many other Elmore Leonard/Quentin Tarantino derivatives out there is frankly it's accent. The joke that this sleepy Irish village where nothing ever happens is currently where everything is happening is not a new one. It's the same principle that gave us Fargo, it's the same principle that gave us In Bruges and at this point it's not a clever enough twist on the norm to cut it. Having said that, the film put together an intriguing double act in Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson, and who knows, on paper In Bruges looked a little hackneyed too, and that turned into something great.
But The Guard is the sort of thing one hopes doesn't become of these 'clever' post-modern thrillers. A glib, self-satisfied movie that eschews being about something in lieu of pointing out it's cleverness at all turns. Nobody loves movies with great dialogue more than me, but I think when it becomes annoying is when it's used as a crutch so the writer doesn;t have to bother with any characterization. This is something a lot of people wrongly accused Easy A of last year (That movie had an incredible amount to say both in terms of ideas and character) but it's something that The Guard is severely guilty of, particularly with it's supporting characters. Mark Strong's character for example, is given a lot of Leonardesque lines pointing out the various idiocies in gangster cliche, which he delivers well, but what is he ultimately? A placeholder bad guy, with no depth and no perspective, simply there to be defeated. I would have gladly sacrificed some of his dialogue to spend that time creating a character. Several minor characters come and go, speaking with the same hyper-aware syntax and contribute little to anything really and it becomes quite insufferable. This is why people say irony can be a bad thing, particularly when used as an excuse not make anything interesting.
Thank god then for Cheadle and Gleeson, who are both such cool, likable heads that they sort of diffuse the pointlessness of the whole thing. Cheadle's character is very much under-written, but he's an actor experienced and talented to do the best with what he's got. Gleeson though, is pretty extra-ordinary. There's a quality about him that's both pleasingly acerbic yet warm. In this movie he reminded me of Humphrey Bogart or some similar talent that manages to make an incredible impression even with lesser material, and give a performance that's both funny and affecting in a movie that entirely leans on his charisma. I think Gleeson is a large reason why In Bruges is the film it is and by that same token he elevates this from disposable to almost recommendable. Probably one of my favorite performances I've seen this year, but the film around it is such that I have to keep my head here.
On the face of it, The Guard is something I want to like more. Because I do think this is a clever movie, and the performance of Gleeson is that strong. But it applies it's cleverness in the worst way to make this a memorable and effective movie. It applies it in a manor that purposefully keeps everything at a distance, the kind of post-modernism that has an erodible impact on a film's depth. I do think this film wanted to be more than a sum of its parts, and a couple of scenes with Gleeson almost get there. But the story is incredibly flimsy, as are too many of the characters. It's disappointingly lightweight, so I can only view it as a missed opportunity.