Trembling Ted wanted to watch this. He’s a big fan of Brendan Gleeson and swearing. “Feckin’ feck,” he said, head pivoting as his hands jived towards his cup of tea. I’ll be honest, this made it hard to watch the film at times as I was worried his bouncy hands would hurl boiling P.G. Tips at me. For Trembling Ted can play it up sometimes. Oh yes. There’s a terrifying element of petulant pretend in the old goat’s approach to conversations. One mistake and he accidentally smacks you in the face. Someone will react one day, and that’s how Trembling Ted will die.
His other joy of choice is writ large in The Guard. Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, an indifferent Garda in the west of Ireland. He starts the film taking drugs off a corpse, one of several credited as Young Man in Car, all dead come the end of the opening credits. Gleeson takes the drug and reflects on the glories of the day.
Old Jack here is a bit of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to drugs. I watched a man fall apart thirty years ago, driven to schizophrenic terrors by a cocaine habit. So…pardon my prudishness. I’m rather more forgiving of the other on-the-line moments in the film. They show what a life can become, a man deep into middle-age, alone, indifferent to his work, into his Russian literature, sea swimming and prostitutes in sexy police kit. Oh yes – this is Gerry Boyle. He also has a grown man’s friendship with his mother, Fionnula Flanagan as the terminal Eileen Boyle. No histrionics, they chat and they swear, wreathed in smoke and Celtic cool. It’s an unfathomably local performance that states little and shows…well, where his brains came from.
And then there’s a murder and an American comes to town. White Ireland; black America. There’s a dryness to the comedy racism that follows, Don Cheadle (FBI man Wendell Everett) gainsaying Boyle’s ignorance with stories of a privileged upbringing. I like them both, although the comedy and buddy-buddy routines are off-kilter and hard to love. Arguably, Cheadle and Gleeson play men too far apart (the former repeatedly insisting the latter stop telling him stuff about his life: drugs and prostitutes..he’s a cop!), but you know they’re so far apart they’ll meet in moments of shared decency… Which happens in a fun blaze of gunfire, chasing of the baddies, and an ambiguous ending. Cheadle admits he can’t tell whether the diffident Gleeson is incredibly smart, or just dumb…by the end, he knows.
The performances are grand – albeit the film is a tad too masculine for old Jack’s tastes. Trembling Ted shook with laughter and the usual tremors as Gleeson growled, spat, one-linered and shot his way through his scenes. He plays a kind of rage under the bluff; Irish, I guess, so beware. The charm’ll stop and he’ll catch you…
Which is pretty much how it goes for the bad guys. Liam Cunningham as Francis Sheehy-Skeffington is a gruff twin to the Guard. Less humoured, more lethal, in charge of morons. Lovely stuff. Mark Strong as the Englishman does his dumbly-stary-scary thing. David Wilmot gives good nutcase, not understanding the diagnosis of his sociopathy. They are casual murderers, all, and sufficiently similar to Boyle for the Guard’s decision to do the right thing to mean something.
But – all a bit male. A bit disjointed. A bit hard to enjoy in places. The female characters are subsidiary to the men. Old Jack wanders Twitter some days and I’d be curious to know what the #metoo crowd and critical posters of ‘attractive and prepared to act slutty’ audition notices think of this film. The older woman, Flanagan, is revered and dies. Of the three noticeable younger women, Sarah Greene and Dominique McElligott are happy hookers, spending their day with Boyle before blackmailing him. Katarina Cas is the wife of a policeman who has a really bad day. She gets more scenes, but as a cypher rather than a character influencing the story.
Ultimately, despite the cheering from Ted as Boyle and Everett do their thing at the climax, I was struck by how desolate this fat, hairy, middle-aged man’s world was. Love goes with his Mother. Connection really only happens with men. And – oddly enough – a boy on a bike who acts as commentator and Symbol of the Universe.
Give The Guard a go for a set of funny performances (Cheadle’s affrontedness was my favourite), dry humour and Gleeson in a uniform.