You know you’re getting cynical when a movie is billed as the ‘funniest movie of the year’ and, despite enjoying it immensely, you wonder what ever did happen to comedy.
The reason The Guard (2010) is called the funniest film of the year is because it doesn’t star Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Bradley Cooper or Ryan Reynolds. That is, because it’s not American.
It is not a formulaic US comedy aiming at the 14-year-old in all of us and the actual young teenagers who populate most movie audiences.
The Guard doesn’t appeal to this demographic, rather it appeals to those of us tired of political correctness and who are well aware that it is the person who occasionally bends the rules who gets things done.
The movie, the debut of director John Michael McDonagh (you’ve got to likes this bloke, he wanted to put on posters advertising his movie: ‘From the brother of the director of In Bruges’), has its basis on what is widely called ‘racism’.
Jokes abound about the drug-running history of African-Americans in the US; Croatians are referred to as Romanians; the Irish guy who gets called ‘an Italian’ by everybody; the black FBI agent who expects people in Ireland to speak English; the Irish who hate everything English. It’s a dig at us all to not be so precious and the chief digger is Sgt Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), the title character.
Boyle is one of those old-style cops that your parents talk about. Give a miscreant a clip under the ear and send them home to their parents, rather than haul them into jail unnecessarily and go through the tedious paperwork with no better result.
His idyllic area of policing has become a haven for drug smugglers and an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) has been sent to County Galway to nab some bad guys. He realises, if a little too late, that Boyle is the only policeman in the vicinity with any idea of what’s going on (or worse, they do know what’s going on but are complicit in the skulduggery).
For a comedy, The Guard has its raw moments and a likeable garda (Gaelic for guard) is brutally murdered early on. This sets the tone for the action that follows and, despite the comic exploits of the three bad guys – discussing philosophy and police ethics – providing some of the best humour in the film, more killing follows.
Mark Strong, who if he hadn’t been bald, would have made a terrific James Bond – and don’t tell me Connery wore a piece because the Scot had hair in the early films – is marvellous as the English hoodlum who is getting sick of the gangster lifestyle and thinking about settling down.
Strong’s attitude to the corrupt Irish police is marvellous and provides one of the themes of the movie, that dialogue and terms used which are rife in US cop shows, is really meaningless when more closely analysed.
When he hands over a briefcase of cash to the corrupt Irishmen, he is asked if it’s “all there.” After moments of disbelief he says of course it’s all there, it’s a bribe. What would be the point of giving a bribe that isn’t all there? His acerbic tongue is delightful.
On the other hand, Boyle is just as sharp tongued without the malice. He is world weary and won’t tolerate fools gladly. He is worried about his dying mother, takes his regulation day off to spend with prostitutes, swims long distances in the icy ocean and is kindly to his constituents.
He is a likeable rogue who gets the job done, despite methods many would disparage.
Using John Denver’s Leaving on a Jetplane over the final titles is a delightful serenade to what may have happened to the hero. I must be indoctrinated by the US model: I expected Boyle to be sitting on a Croatian beach with his murdered colleague’s ex-wife.
Shame on me! The Guard is the funniest film of the year.