Despite the fact that I live in a bustling metropolis, all of the theaters that show smaller films are somewhere between 30 and 50 miles away. In “Dallas Traffic Time”, that translates to somewhere between 90 minutes and 16 days. As a result, I don’t get time to see many of these films until they come to DVD, if at all. In my experience, art house films are often the most difficult to write about and even more difficult to properly judge, particularly in the summer. When almost everything I’ve watched in the last three months has involved superheroes, aliens, or jokes related to bodily functions, I have a tough time transitioning to more mature and cinematic endeavors. So it is with “The Guard, a film entirely unlike anything else I saw this summer.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is an off-the-wall, somewhat crotchety veteran police officer who patrols a small Irish town. Shortly after beginning an investigation into a peculiar murder, Boyle discovers that his case is related to a major drug ring that is currently being hunted by FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). As straight-laced as they come, Everett is an odd pair for Boyle but the two are forced to work together to take down the cartel. When the case pulls Boyle in deeper than he would have ever imagined he is forced to reexamine his life’s work and turn himself into an unlikely hero.
If that synopsis makes “The Guard” sound wholly serious, bear in mind that it is completely and totally a comedy. A dark comedy to be sure but a comedy nonetheless. If you’ve ever wondered what “Hot Fuzz” would be like if it was subtle and less over-the-top, “The Guard” fits the bill. This is writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s first full length film but I would never have guessed it if not for the magic of IMDB. It is a witty, well-written film that makes its tone clear from the first scene. The pacing isn’t exactly what I would call slow but instead calculatedly casual; it knows where it intends to go and it makes its way with balanced determination. This is a film that knows its own identity and doesn’t stray from the dark comedy path more than a time or two. Its humor is smart and lively. Even with the thick accents (which probably caused me to miss a joke or two) “The Guard” is filled with exquisite dialogue and understated jokes that brought more laughs than anything from all but the very best big budget comedies this year has brought.
The plot of “The Guard” is simple but refined and that pushes all of the attention onto the characters and the actors who portray them. Cheadle is a solid straight man and as he always does, he makes the absolute most of every scene he is given. As one of the ringleaders of the drug ring, Mark Strong’s character is straight out of a Guy Ritchie film, a role Strong is great at playing. Please Mr. Strong: stick to these films and stay away from popcorn crap like “Green Lantern.” But despite all of the excellent actors around him, “The Guard” is all about Gleeson. His work in 2008’s “In Bruges” (coincidentally directed by McDonagh’s brother Martin) finally brought him the attention he deserves, but Gleeson has always been a favorite of mine, a magnificent actor who never fails to impress no matter how little screen time he is given. Boyle is a without a doubt a curmudgeon (and a slightly racist one at that) but Gleeson makes him exceedingly likeable. He is a wild card, the type of guy who does the right thing when you’re absolutely sure he’s going to continue to disgrace himself and Gleeson pulls this off perfectly. Moreover, he once again exhibits the brilliant comedic timing that has made him one of the best and most versatile actors Ireland has to offer. I’m not saying it’s his best performance but rather another in a long string of quality portrayals that illustrate just how undervalued this guy really is.
Fun, intelligent, and genuinely hilarious, “The Guard” is an excellent departure from my typical fare this time of year. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I really like summer blockbusters. I love them, in fact. But when a movie like “The Guard” comes along in the midst of the “Conan the Barbarians” of the world, it serves as an incredibly refreshing reminder of what we have to hope for in the coming months.
I think we need a conversion chart for “Dallas Traffic Time”,