Thursday, July 28, 2011

Brendan Gleeson & Don Cheadle shine in the other McDonagh's delicious THE GUARD -- plus a very short Q&A with these three

Can "tone" alone carry a movie? I wouldn't have said so until faced with THE GUARD, the new film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. Now I must say, 'Sure -- but unless you're this particular McDonagh, I wouldn't risk it." John Michael, you see, is the brother of the more famous playwright and screenwriter (In Bruges) Martin McDonagh. Yet their work -- on the basis of these two films, at least, and while deal-ing with drugs, death and duplicity in a comedic vein -- could hardly be more different. For TrustMovies' taste, Martin is overly assertive, a verbal show-off in extremis, while brother John comes at you sideways, under the radar and a lot more quietly.

The movie begins with a verbal fuck and a bang, and just when we're saying to ourselves, "Well, we've seen this before!", thanks to the sightly bizarre but just-right acting moment from star Brendan Gleeson, we quickly realize that, no, we haven't. And then there are those green walls -- in Gleeson's bedroom, and in the home of the first of several dead people that the movie visits. In the Q&A with the director, McDonagh, shown at left, allowed that he had chosen that green on purpose -- just to give a different spin to things. It certainly works.

But then just about everything does in this enchanting movie about drugs, betrayal,  murder and other bad things. The filmmaker takes all these, and layers them with comedy. This combo of comedy and dark deeds is not particularly new. Atop all this, it's as though Tinkerbell had entered unnoticed with a handful of pixie dust and tossed it over the entire proceedings. Oh, you can see neither Tink nor the dust, but they're there, all right -- in the singular tone of the film. While dealing with the most awful occurrences, McDonagh is almost gentle, kindly, dear.

Note the scene in which the villains (well, some of the villains) must do away with Gleeson's cop partner (a lovely performance from Rory Keenan, above, right, with Gleeson). I believe you will not have seen anything quite like the quirky, melancholy sadness produced by these few moments.

The villainous but philosophy-quoting threesome themselves are somewhat melancholic (the director noted in the Q&A that he wanted them that way), but as played to a fare-thee-well by (left to right, above) David Wilmot, Liam Cunningham and the ubiquitous Mark Strong, they are memorable. Likewise the pair of hookers with whom Gleeson spends his day off: This scene is sweet as pie and -- thanks to the work of the three actors involved -- utterly believable, too.

Fionnula Flannigan (above, right), as Gleeson's dying mom, does her usual fine work, as does relative newcomer and eastern European actress Katerina Cas as Gleeson's partner's "arranged-marriage" bride. Calexico provide the very nice musical score,

The movie is being made much of as a fish-out-of-water, opposites-attract, buddy movie, and yes, it's all that. Yet even with the super-pro work of the two leads (Don Cheadle, above, with less screen time, still registers very strongly), this is at heart an ensemble piece, with the voice and tone of the screenwriter in the catbird seat. The movie is alternately weird, funny, exciting and sad -- all of which you often get in the comedic-crime genre. What you can't get, except here, is the... well, call it the state of grace that seems to waft lightly over everything. Thank you, Mr. McDonagh.

The Guard, 96 minutes, from Sony Pictures Classics, opens Friday, July 29 in New York (at the AMC Empire 25, Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles at The Landmark  -- and in the weeks to come at various Laemmle Theaters.


At the Q&A with Gleeson (bluff, pleasantly gruff and full of life) and Cheadle (slight, svelt and exceedingly dapper), both men were in fine form and talked about how enjoyable it was to work together. My question concerned whether or not they realized, upon reading the script just what kind of tone the movie would eventually have. Both men agreed that, yes, that tone was indeed there on the page, and so the movie resulting from it was no surprise to either of them.

McDonagh was quieter, as writer/directors often are, but seemed a surprisingly generous fellow. He noted that he particularly enjoyed giving all the actors in the film a visual as well as a "name" credit at the film's finale. (This is a very generous thing to do for actors, and a nice help to the audience in identifying who they have just seen.)  To my question about the enchanting quality of his movie, the director allowed that, yes, he does have a quieter tone, and that he trying to upend much of the stuff we viewers usually see in cop movies and crime investigations.  In fact, he would deliberately do the opposite of much that occurs in these films, just to see what would happen. Fortunately the actors were happy to go along with him, and the resulting film bears out his theories.


Sunshine said...

this review very well captures the immense charm and fun of THE GUARD. Visually interesting, the energy between Cheedle and Gleeson is completely infectious and delightful. And the ending is both unexpected and original. I only wish it came with subtitles as the Irish accents are often difficult to understand. So I suppose a second viewing is both necessary and most welcome.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Sunshine! I know what you mean about the accents. I am going to wait for the DVD to come out and then turn on the English subtitles when I watch. That always seems to work -- and then I enjoy a film I've already enjoyed... even more!

I plan to do the same thing with the "aliens-vs-the-project-kids" movie ATTACK THE BLOCK, in which the dialog was even harder to understand.