Ambiguity inherently makes things more mysterious and a bit more interesting to watch and The Guard is full of it. Gerry Boyle, played deadpan by Brendan Gleeson, is a protagonist that some people would have a difficult time getting behind, but people will definitely have a good time watching him interact in his world. In America, audiences are used to hard delineated lines between good guys and bad guys. This film makes the audience guess which side Sergeant Gerry Boyle will be on in the end and that makes this film a fairly fun ride. It definitely makes The Guard more interesting, it being full of moral ambiguity.
It is a bit reminiscent of The King of Marvin Gardens, the 1972 Jack Nicholson crime movie. I had a film professor in college who loved it due to it’s ambiguity and he wouldn’t let up on how that made it such a better movie than if it would have been played straight forward. It does just that for The Guard.
Don Cheadle plays Wendell Everett, an FBI agent in Ireland trying to thwart a 500 million dollar drug deal. He’s the straight laced good guy of the film confused by the ambiguous Boyle that he has reluctantly recruited to help him in his mission. They are after four men involved in international drug trafficking in a sleepy seaside town run by Sergeant Boyle.
The personal life of Sergeant Boyle makes audiences question his loyalty to his job and his ability to care about the case or anything else that is happening in his town. He sleeps with prostitutes; he takes drugs; he sneaks in alcohol and other drugs for his mother that is staying at an Old Folks’ Home. His character is contrasted by other police force on the case that will play people for their own gain. Most of the characters are out only for themselves; they don’t know what it is like to think outside themselves. Boyle is complex and hard to read, but he does think outside of himself. The best part of the character though, is his deadpan humor. He’s sharp and keen – he knows what is going on around him, but doesn’t give on that he does. He plays every one around him and he gets the best of them.
John Michael McDonagh, the man who wrote and directed this movie, does a deft job creating a mystery that can charm while being full of dark gray matter. It’s a fairly impressive directorial debut. He tells the story well with the camera, but for good reason, he relies on his dialogue and his characters to truly tell the story. He has a similar writing style to his brother Martin McDonagh, the playwright that wrote and directed the wonderfully insane In Bruges, but it would be unfair to compare the two.
The Guard is rich in gray, teetering back and forth between good and evil; between hope and despair. The rumination on moral ambiguity works most of the time, but in the end, it’s just a little too much. Where is truth? What is truth? We all might just be bad men that are capable of good things. It’s a small story, and despite great work by Gleeson and Cheadle, it stays small. It’s a movie for those who enjoy dark humor. For those, it will be a great ride. For the rest, it’s best left unwatched.
2011 Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh