August 03, 2011

Brendan Gleeson

Brendan Gleeson

The rest of the cast is almost as good as Gleeson. Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) plays a fastidious FBI agent sent to Ireland to catch a Colombian ship attempting to land $500,000,000 worth of cocaine on Connacht’s convoluted coast. Sgt. Boyle scoffs that it’s $500,000,000 as the FBI calculates “street value” for its press releases. “I do always wonder what street you lads are buying your cocaine on, because it’s not the same street I’m buying my cocaine on.”

In the 44-year-old tradition of black-cop/white-cop buddy movies going back to Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, circumstances require Gleeson and Cheadle to team up. By 2011, however, all the institutional advantages are on the black city cop’s side. Yet the Irishman continues to needle the African-American with digs that would get him sent to a diversity reeducation camp in America.

When Cheadle explains that, no, he’s not from “the projects,” he’s from a privileged background—“Summer in the Hamptons, skiing in Aspen”—Gleeson gleefully interrupts, “I thought black people couldn’t ski…or is that swimming?” When Cheadle objects, Gleeson insists that he be afforded multicultural sensitivity: “I’m Irish, sir. Racism is part of my culture.”

The chief villain is portrayed by Mark Strong, the fellow who looks like a larger, scarier Stanley Tucci. (Strong was born Marco Giuseppe Salussolia.)

Unlike Strong’s bad guy in Robert Downey, Jr.’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes, who pursued world domination as unquestioningly as movie antagonists are supposed to, Strong’s philosophical English drug dealer in The Guard finds villainy boring and depressing: “I’m sick of the kind of people we have to deal with in this business.” While killing time, he challenges his hit man (who insists, “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a sociopath”) to come up with a single quote from Nietzsche and then mocks the hired gun for predictability in dredging up “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

Perhaps The Guard is no great advance on Pulp Fiction’s killers laughing over a French McDonald’s serving “a Royale with cheese.” The Guard’s whimsy may be a little on the nose; I kept saying, “Hey, I would have written that line.”

But it’s a very funny movie.



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