John Michael McDonagh’s recent film The Guard had everyone wetting themselves as it became the highest grossing independent Irish film of all time. So is it the greatest Irish film of all time? No, in my opinion it’s one of the worst.
To me this a modern-day “The Quiet Man” or “Darby O Gill and the Little People”, a film with happily piles on the phaddywhackery stereotypes – we all hate the Brits and Protestants, are racist and a bunch of cute whores that you’d have to get up early to catch out. Brendan Gleeson plays the local thick as pig shit guard in a rural Connemara community but he isn’t actually stupid he just wants you to think that because ya never know when the British could be about. He is reluctantly teamed up with Don Cheadle a black American narcotics cop, over in Ireland to try to break a drug ring.
The ring consists of Liam Cunningham smuggling in drugs with the help of Mark Strong and others. The “gang” is the most trite paint by numbers gang you’ll ever see , we have the psycho, the silent one and the boss who’s big into philosophy and the scenes where they wax lyrical about the meaning of life are nauseating. It’s obvious McDonagh is a fan of Tarantino with all his dialogue for dialogue sake and not just to propel the story most notable in the diner scene between Gleeson and Cunningham but someone should tell him Reservoir Dogs was nearly twenty years ago and to come up with his own ideas.
Next is the underlying racism throughout, being Irish we’ve only ever seen black people on the telly usually suffering from famine so when Don rides into town all the place is amazed and when he goes inquiring about the recent murders and possible drug connections he is met with hostility and cold shoulders which is just more fuel to the fire of the Irish stereotype of saying nothing until you hear more. It also amazes me that Cheadle agreed to speak some of the dialogue given to him especially concerning Gleeson’s intelligence.
With McDonagh’s brother having directed the superb In Bruges three years ago a hit man film with heart, humour and intelligence it baffles me that John would do a film with such similar tones and one of the same main actors because it leaves his film so open to comparison and In Bruges wins on every front.The only redeeming feature of the film is the relationship between Gleeson and his dying mother played by Fionnula Flanagan here we see why Gleeson is Ireland’s greatest actor at present and it’s a pity his talents weren’t put to better use.
With Garage a few years ago and Savage last year I finally thought Irish cinema had moved on from telling stories about how terrible the British were to us, traveller’s horses and Dublin “characters” but we keep returning to the scene of the crime time and time again.