Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. While Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 was technically the first Sundance 2011 film I watched in Park City, The Guard was my first real deal screening. Yes, I watched it in a theater… and not just any theater, but The Egyptian, one of the most quintessential Sundance venues in Park City.
Director John Michael McDonagh took the stage and gave a brief intro for the film that pretty much set the tone. He said, “This is a pitch black comedy with bits of sadness. So, something for everybody!”
If you’re a fan of dark comedies you surely know John Michael’s brother, Martin, who wrote and directed IN BRUGES and also served as producer on this film. I can say with 100% certainty that the talent for writing hilarious dialogue and outlandish situations runs strong in the veins of the McDonagh clan.
Let me describe the opening of the film so you can understand the tone. Thunderous music plays as a helicopter tracks a shot of a speeding car weaving in and out of its lane as it blasts through the Irish countryside. Inside the car are what the British call “chavs,” kind of gangster white kids, drinking, smoking, being loud and obnoxious.
The car zooms past a parked cop and as they cut inside the car and we’re introduced to Brendan Gleeson’s Boyle we hear the sound of a horrible, horrible accident. Gleeson’s expression doesn’t change one bit. He nonchalantly gets out of the car and as he wanders over to the wreck we see the results of drinking and driving.
Bodies are on the road, the car is flipped, glass is everywhere. Gleeson bends over and checks the pulse of one of the dead chavs, then searches his pockets pulling out a baggy filled with all sorts of drugs. He reaches in, takes out a baggie of coke and tosses it away. Instead he digs something else out we don’t quite see until he sticks his finger to his tongue and we see a smiley face tab of acid. His eyes roll back and the camera pans up to the sky as the title comes up on the screen.
That’s the tone. Gleeson is kind of a crooked cop, but not really. He has his own sense of morality, but he also happens to be incredibly racist and enjoys the occasional drink, drug and hooker.
In a lot of respects this flick would make a great double features with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. The Guard isn’t as bizarre and oddly paced (there are no lucky crackpipes or 2 minute long lizard music videos in The Guard, unfortunately), but in terms of the loveable crooked cop I think Boyle would get along famously with Nic Cage’s Terence McDonagh… appropriately considering his Bad Lieutenant character shares his name with the brain behind this film.
Gleeson is perfect as Boyle, keeping him from being too offensive just because Gleeson is just so goddamn likeable. Every racist slur comes off more innocent than it should, every encounter with a prostitute feels somehow cleaner than it should and every disparaging remark lacks the sting of true cruelty.
The flick picks up when Don Cheadle comes in as an FBI agent tracking down half a billion worth of drugs being shipping into Ireland by Liam Cunningham and his eccentric cronies. The muscle, with a surprisingly high intellect, is played by the great Mark Strong, who is really making a name for himself as a screen bad guy with his recent appearances in Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass and this film, and the wide-eyed yet strangely likeable psychopath is played by Darren Healy.
That’s the charm of the flick is that everybody has a quirk, be it the little gun-stealing 9 year old riding a girl’s bike around the town or the closeted nice guy partner. Cheadle has the least oddness, playing the straight man to all the crazy shit going down around him. Maybe that’s a sly way for the filmmakers to make an American audience comfortable with those scaaaarrryyyy accents: make the American the straight guy entrance to this crazy foreign world.
Whatever the purpose, the flick is fucking funny. Everything else it gets right is just extra icing on the cake.
If you want an up to the minute account of what I’m seeing and my immediate verdict on Sundance flicks as I see them be sure to follow me on Twitter!